Human Trafficking in a Digital World

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As the founder of a Girls Who Code Club in my town, I tend to view societal issues through a digital lens. As a teenage girl, I view the epidemic of human trafficking from the standpoint of young women, so many of whom are victims of this form of modern day slavery. January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and as this month concludes with National Freedom Day on February 1st, I examine the double edged sword of technology and human trafficking. 

According to the US government, 25 million people are victims of human trafficking for sex and labor. Technology plays a significant role in recruiting and trapping victims, but also in fighting human trafficking. According to Forbes, Facebook and WhatsApp can be a migrant’s best tools but also a huge threat, providing a way for smugglers to advertise. The migrants are then charged exorbitant fees and stolen into trafficking. The United Nations would like social media platforms to step up and do more. According to Leonard Doyle, a UN spokesperson “After one page is shut down, smugglers can easily reopen another. There’s no way to tell the scope of the program on Facebook or WhatsApp.”

Technology is being harnessed to fight back. The Annenberg Center at USC has launched a Technology & Human Trafficking Initiative to study the current use and broader implementation of communication technologies on the international fight against trafficking. Some key findings include: laws should ensure that workers have access to social networks, data analytics can be used to combat human trafficking, divulging personal information on social media can be used to exploit and disaster response technologies represent a new avenue for trafficking intervention.

According to Forbes, seven technologies being used to fight human trafficking include: 1) Spotlight by Thorn is designed to aggregate data for law enforcement from online commercial sex ads, 2) DARPA’s Memex program uses an advanced search engine in the anti-trafficking space, 3) the National Human Trafficking Resource Center by Polaris includes a hotline, accessible by email or online tip reporting form, 4) Microsoft’s Photo DNA monitors illicit online ads, 5) CyberTipline, which has received over 4 million tips, 6) NHTRC’s SMS-based textile, with which victims can text the shortcake “BeFree” for a discreet way to access the hotline and 7) anti-trafficking public service announcements, such as MTV’s Exit campaign. 

Abolishion shares four apps to help fight human trafficking including BAN (a game that educates users about human trafficking), Slavery Footprint (users answer questions that give a score showing how many slaves work to support your life), Free2Work (shows which products are involved in human trafficking, can be used while shopping) and Red-light Traffick (focusing on recognizing, reporting, recovering and releasing victims.) The US Department of Labor has also released an innovative business-focused app that supports private-sector efforts to eradicate forced labor from global supply chains.

We are all armed with camera phones.  Recognizing the signs of trafficking enables all of us to share and report trouble. Signs that someone might be trafficked include: not holding his or her own travel documents, appearing frightened and not being able to speak for oneself and not being allowed to move about alone.

The digital landscape of human trafficking is both treacherous and hopeful.  Human trafficking is global and local. We must master new tools to stay ahead of the traffickers and rescue the victims.

Education on Predatory Tactics Key to Preventing Human Trafficking

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This article was contributed by Mary Ann Fusco of NJ Safe & Sound.


Psychological coercion and isolation—elements of undue influence and predatory alienation—are among the weapons that human traffickers use to control and exploit their victims.    

Since 2012, NJ Safe & Sound volunteers have been educating the public on how to recognize the tactics of coercive control and other forms of extreme undue influence, and encouraging New Jersey lawmakers to offer legal recourse against such psychological abuse.    

On May 8, 2017, Governor Chris Christie signed into law S2562/A4244, which calls on the NJ Department of Children and Families and the NJ Department of Human Services to study predatory alienation and its effects on young adults and senior citizens. The bill, which had robust bipartisan support with nine sponsors from both sides of the aisle in the Senate and seven in the Assembly, passed both houses of the Legislature unanimously.  

The Rutgers University School of Social Work has been funded to conduct the study on predatory alienation, and researchers are in the process of holding confidential interviews with victims, advocates, and other stakeholders from the fields of law enforcement, education, and mental heath. They expect to issue a report with recommendations in mid-November.    

Based in Teaneck, NJ Safe & Sound is proud to be a member of the NJ Coalition Against Human Trafficking. More information is available at and

Fair Trade Fair & Silhouette Project   

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This article was contributed by Susan Neigher of the NCJW West Morris Section.

The West Morris Section of the National Council of Jewish Women hosted a Fair Trade Fair on April 3, 2016 at the County College of Morris in Randolph.  Over 130 people from all over the state came to the event.     

We had tremendous support from the Coalition, especially from the Justice Network, to pack the venue with Fair Trade vendors.

As a special treat, the fruits of the Silhouette Project were displayed.  Through a grant from Atlantic Health, the Coalition was able to supply plywood silhouettes to 22 student and community groups.  The groups embellished the silhouettes to depict victims of human trafficking.  Professional artists judged the work, and cash prizes were awarded.       

One silhouette depicted a human trafficking victim bound in ropes with the notice “not for sale.” Another showed the insides of a human body and explained that some people are trafficked to harvest their organs for transplant.  The silhouette that attendees voted “Fair Favorite” was covered with broken glass, depicting the true story of a victim trying to put her shattered life back together.     

Our guest speaker about Fair Trade issues, rabbinic intern Sarah Barasch-Hagans, discussed how important it is in Jewish tradition to free the slave and raise up the poor and the downtrodden.

Sarah told us that most cacao used in making chocolate comes from Africa, and almost all of it is grown by people trapped in slavery.  Many of them are children, even as young as five years old. Therefore most Fair Trade chocolate is sourced from Central and South America, where the cacao is grown by small farms with independent farmers who work under safe working conditions and earn a fair wage for their labors.     

Sarah also discussed how the Fair Food movement began among tomato workers in Florida twenty years ago.  The workers initiated a protest against wages well below minimum wage; unsafe working conditions in fields without shade, water, or toilet facilities; sexual harassment; and horrible living conditions.  Aided by faith-based groups, especially Sarah’s organization T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (in south Florida) was born.  In a few short years the Coalition was able to obtain the support of Walmart and almost all fast food chains (with the exception of Wendy’s) to only purchase tomatoes that were certified Fair Food.  The Immokalee coalition is continuing to pressure Wendy’s to sign on to the agreement, and is now expanding their efforts beyond tomatoes to include strawberries and peppers.     

We were able to obtain extensive press coverage, so the event and its message reached thousands of readers.

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