When people think of women or girls being prostituted, they often think of them standing on a street corner or dancing in a men’s club. More and more, however, traffickers are using the internet and hotel rooms. A trafficker takes a photo of the woman or child in a hotel room, and uploads it on the internet as a way of advertising that victim for sale. A hotel room works well for the trafficker because it can be paid for with cash, and the victim can be moved every few days or week, or more often if need be. The room is anonymous, and the trafficker thinks that they will be undetected.
In 2016, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis and the social action group Exchange Initiative developed an app to help locate and bring these victims home. TraffickCam, the app, urges travelers to use their smartphones to upload photos of their hotel rooms in order to create a database of room photos that can be compared with the photos posted online by traffickers. No personal information is kept except the phone’s GPS location. Photos with people in them will be rejected by the database.
Furniture, patterns in carpeting, drapes, pictures, accessories, even window views can provide information to law enforcement that can lead them to local hotels. Early testing showed that the app is 85% effective in identifying hotels. The database currently has 1.5 million photos from more than 145,000 hotels all over the country.
Exchange Initiative encourages business travelers, vacationers, truckers, airline employees, sports teams and any hotel users to download the app, and photograph your rooms at hotels and motels. Use is anonymous.
Donations to continue developing the database can be made at http://www.exchangeinitiative.com. Donations will be doubled through a $100,000 matching grant challenge from the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph.
Be an Abolitionist and fight Human Trafficking!
“Criminals take advantage of technology to advertise and coordinate illegal sex trafficking. We’re using new technologies to fight sex trafficking.”