The Technology of Trafficking

How the modern world fuels modern-day slavery

With just a few clicks, we feel connected. By logging in, we open ourselves up to a global community. In our human desire to engage with others, we’ve developed a foreign world that knows no international boarders or international law. The World Wide Web, and the devices that connect us to it, create seemingly limitless possibilities for communication. But the same capabilities that help us reach across oceans have the power to manipulate and dehumanize the vulnerable.

How Traffickers Use Technology

text-message-trafficking1Because modern communication has permeated nearly every community, no social class, ethnic group, or age group is free of technology’s consequences, positive or negative. In fact, The World Bank estimates that nearly 75% of the world has access to a cell phone. The ease with which we contact our employers, clients, friends, and family also enables predators to communicate with those at-risk. “Such technological capabilities and affordances enable traffickers by increasing their ability to exploit a greater number of victims across geographic boundaries.” (USC, 12) Whether it’s through Facebook, Twitter, email, or text, traffickers will seek out the lost and loney—those who might be manipulated through an online relationship. Such cases often begin with casual online chats, lead to meet-ups, and quickly spiral into exploitative affairs.

Traffickers not only use this technology to silence their victims but also to find their paying customers. Online communities are formed for a variety of interests, from crafting and gardening to buying women, men, and children for sex. This illegal activity is hidden within common sales sites like Craigslist, but also flaunted on sites like Backpage that advertise massages, escort services, and “dating” relationships. Making the purchase online can also relieve the client of fear or guilt, easing the transition from online pornography to the purchase of women and children. The ability to eliminate human interaction and emotion could potentially cause a spike in the illegal sale of sex, growing the industry that many believed to be abolished.

Why Traffickers Should Fear Technology

modern-day-trafficking-police-carsWhile online trafficking may be more lucrative, it’s also less hidden. The public way in which traffickers advertise this normally hidden evil makes it possible for law enforcement and specially trained NGOs to find and rescue women who are advertised online. FBI and police units can arrange rescue and arrest operations under the guise of buying sex or as new recruits in a prostitution ring.

Because Social Media sites and internet browsers can save their content and histories, it’s nearly impossible for traffickers to delete the traces they leave behind. This trail of evidence leads to more convictions and develops hard evidence about trafficking patterns, leading to proactive investigations and prevention initiatives.

With this in mind, The FBI and international NGOs are now developing technology that can aid in trafficking investigations, raise awareness, and help consumers avoid products that are known for labor trafficking. As technology continues to progress, the possibility of ending modern-day slavery seems potentially close at hand.

Online trafficking can also enable research organizations to measure the growth or demise of the sex industry, something that would otherwise lean on estimates and well-informed guesswork. Researchers can witness the spike in sex sales during sporting events, tourist seasons, and other entertainment attractions—confirming what has only been assumed in the past.

Protecting Yourself from Technology-based Trafficking

text-message-trafficking2While the risks are real, the likelihood of escaping technology as a whole is unrealistic and unnecessary. The benefits strongly outweigh the risks, and protecting oneself from those risks is simply a matter of being an informed internet user. Parents can teach their children to “befriend” only those they have met in person, to use internet security measures, and to never reveal personal information online, among other safety  precautions.

Off the web, community members should invest in youth who pass through their circles of influence. When teens and young adults engage in real and meaningful relationships, they are less likely to seek such connections through potentially harmful means. Law enforcement alone cannot protect and prevent citizens from technological risks. When our close-knit communities choose to take action, we can then begin to protect those at-risk and remind every man, woman, and child of their dignity and worth.


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