The simple app that can help law enforcement — and you! — fight sex traffickers.
A new app called TraffickCam surfaced last year to help citizens become crime scene sleuths.
The next time you check into a fabulous hotel on Miami Beach, take heed: Activists and police say hotels are being used for sex trafficking, a trade that turns people into sexual commodities against their will.
A new app called TraffickCam surfaced last year to help citizens become crime scene sleuths. The idea is simple and much easier than a selfie: Take four anonymous photos of every hotel room you check into, then upload them to the organization’s database. Those photos can help law enforcement identify locations where victims are trafficked based on photos uploaded to the Internet. Utilizing digital algorithms, the app has the potential to facilitate quicker rescues and help investigators crack down on the crime by honing in on locations.
Kimberly Ritter, director of development for the Exchange Initiative, says the TraffickCam app came out of necessity. She’s a meeting planner who organizes conferences for Nix Conference & Meeting Management, a firm based in St. Louis, Missouri. After an “aha” moment of realizing her work in the business travel field could make a difference, she got funding from the Sisters of Saint Joseph to collaborate with a Washington University media lab to build the app.
“We want to engage, empower, and educate people on the red flags of sex trafficking,” says Ritter. “We are trying to form a common point, a united action to become stronger in the fight using social technology.”
The app isn’t the only way organizations are trying to draft the hotel industry into the fight.
Although not directly affiliated with TraffickCam, ECPAT — USA (End Child Slavery at the Source) helps in the overall battle. The Brooklyn-based company operates The Code, a child protection code of conduct that hotels and many travel and tourism interests can sign to signal they’re proactive in company philosophy and staff training. When a hotel becomes a signatory, it basically means it is not complicit in sex trafficking. Because the crimes happen behind closed doors of hotel rooms, it’s easy for staff to get sucked into the ruses of the sex trade.
“We find that there has been trafficking in every city, even in tiny towns,” says Michelle Guelbart, director of Private Sector Engagement at ECPAT. “The hotel industry can feel anonymous. Traffickers will use a hotel if they feel there’s no pressure to leave it.”
The issue also hits closer to home in the Magic City. Somy Ali, who runs an organization called No More Tears based out of Fort Lauderdale, knows this all too well. Founded in 2006, No More Tears has helped over 3,000 victims find a way out.
“Girls are sold and put into dog cages,” Ali says. “There’s a misconception that this is a crime happening solely in Asia. But there’s a U.S. underground server where people are paying money to do things to kids. It’s how humanity has failed us. A girl from Nicaragua was sold here and she was raped many times. She lost count after 500.”
Whether or not Miami and its tourists will adopt the app to help put a hold on the crime remains to be seen. Florida ranks high in global trafficking of underaged children, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which says 550 cases have been reported to the organization out of the state so far this year.
There’s a mess out there in the paradise, but savvy travelers can make a difference by using the app.
I published this story in my hometown newspaper, but it was pulled because hotels are advertisers. I’m sharing it here because #freedomofthepress. Find me on Twitter @vicequeenmaria and read road trip dispatches at #vicequeentravel.