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Can A Text Message Save a Human Trafficking Victim?

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The Polaris Project is one of the most highly-respected human trafficking organizations in the nation. Based in Washington, D.C., the Polaris Project (named after the North Star that guided slaves to freedom in the 1800s) is home to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. The hotline is able to receive calls or texts 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Does it work? Apparently so.

Jennifer Kimball was monitoring calls and texts at the hotline a few months ago. In a story from The Washington Post, Kimball received a text from an 18-year-old woman in distress.

The woman, a sex-trade worker, was trapped in a motel room with her pimp and she secretly used his cellphone to send a text seeking help. The Washington-based group moved quickly to alert authorities, who ultimately arrested the pimp.

Another organization that believes a text can save a trafficking victim is Redlight Traffic. They have developed an app that allows for real-time reporting of human trafficking. The hopes for this app are two-fold: clearly, there is hope that law enforcement can help victims, but the app also has an educational component.

The idea behind the app is to help fill two glaring gaps: Teach citizens how to identify signs of sex-trafficking and give them an easy way to do something about it; and provide law enforcement with data that can potentially help officers rescue victims and build criminal cases against pimps and men who pay for sex.

“There are a lot of scenarios that don’t amount to a 911 call,” said [Joel] Banks, a member of the [King County] sheriff’s Street Crimes Unit, which investigates prostitution-related cases. “I thought (the app) was a pretty clever way to see that gap and fill it in.”

A patrol officer isn’t going to respond to a report of, say, a man in his 30s berating a teenager on the side of the road, or to a tip that an “obviously older man in a stereotypical ‘pimp car’ ” is riding around with a much younger girl, because those situations aren’t crimes, Banks said.

Through the app, though, citizens will be able to report their suspicions, upload photos and GPS locations, and provide information on a business, vehicle or person — whether that person is a suspected prostitute, pimp or buyer. Officers will be able to search and review individual reports and view a map of all reported incidents in an area.

The free app (currently available for Android and iOS devices) allows a person to report a business where they believe human trafficking may be occurring, or to report a person or vehicle. It also includes basic indicators of human trafficking to look for, such as signs of physical abuse and a person who does not know where he or she is.

While it remains to be seen how effective the app is (it’s only been available since April 2014), it is encouraging to see innovative uses of technology in the fight against human trafficking.

To learn more about the app, visit Redlight Traffic.

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Elise Hilton Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.

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