The Americas

TraffickCam, an App to Fight Human Trafficking in the United States

The phenomenon of human trafficking has always been an important issue in the United States of America, as it is usually used as a transit and destination country by traffickers. Indeed, it is estimated that between fifteen and twenty thousand persons are trafficked in the US every year. The majority of the victims are women, children and immigrants, and they are mostly trafficked for sexual exploitation and forced labour.

The US government, in collaboration with non-profit organisations, is trying to stop this ever-growing phenomenon and to persecute its perpetrators. However, identifying the traffickers and protecting the victims is not always easy, due to the clandestine nature of human trafficking, and the fact that the traffickers often cooperate with legal businesses. In fact, it is known that traffickers regularly use motels and hotels along the major highway and interstate commerce routes, at times even taking photos of their victims in the hotel rooms and posting them online, for prospective buyers.

Thus, knowing exactly which motels and other legitimate businesses are used by the traffickers may help in the battle against human trafficking.

For this purpose, an app called TraffickCam has been created, which allows people to intervene against human trafficking without being directly involved. Using it is quite easy.

“TraffickCam asks its users to take photos of hotel and motel rooms where they stay, allowing the service to create a searchable database. This will (hopefully) allow law enforcement to identify where a photo of a trafficking victim was taken – the combination of room layout, furnishings, window views, wall decoration, or even bedspreads might make all the difference.”

In this way, hotel clients can take one to four photos of their hotel room and upload them on the app, making sure to specify the name of the hotel and the room number. For privacy reasons, it is recommended to wait until their stay in the hotel is over before putting the images online. Police and law enforcement agencies will then use the images uploaded in the app to build a database and try to “track down human trafficking sites and hopefully find patterns in the behaviour and locations of traffickers.”

“Right now there are pictures posted every day. Hundreds of pictures, in every city around the United States, posted online, that show victims of trafficking, in hotel rooms posed on beds”, says Washington University Researcher and TraffickCam developer Abby Stylianou. TraffickCam already has about 1.5 million images, which can help investigators “identify known routes human traffickers take when shuttling people around the globe.”

TraffickCam is developed by the Exchange Initiative, a Missouri-based group dedicated to fighting the sexual exploitation of children, and it is now available for iOS, Android and a browser-based version as well, and it is available for free.

Here is the link to the Exchange Initiative Website, from where it is possible to download the app.

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