Human trafficking is one of the most lucrative sectors of organized crime, generating over 150 billion dollars annually. Trafficking is a truly global concern, effecting over 40 million people worldwide, the UN estimates. Technology is playing an increasingly serious role, both for traffickers and those working to bring them down.
How Traffickers Use Technology
Human trafficking is big business, and like any modern business, traffickers take advantage of technology to better serve consumers and maximize profits. Sophisticated networks of traffickers and buyers organize and conduct their activities anonymously via the “dark web”, heavily encrypted sites inaccessible to a standard browser.
While the dark web has received a certain amount of notoriety, much of the everyday business of sex trafficking is facilitated on the most popular social networks. Websites like Craigslist formerly featured ads for adult services, some posted by unwilling victims coerced by their traffickers.
How Technology Can Turn the Tables on Traffickers
The general availability of technology makes it a double-edged sword for traffickers. National law enforcement and intelligence agencies are developing ever more powerful tools to catch traffickers and their buyers on the dark web.
At the grass roots, crowdfunding campaigns draw attention to the problem while raising money on behalf of anti-trafficking organizations or individual victims. Some activists independently organize projects online such as human trafficking auctions which allow them to combine their passion for the issue with their own unique skill sets. They can exercise a higher degree of control than may be available in the one-size-fits-all models of popular crowdfunding platforms.
The same platforms traffickers use to recruit their victims, such as Facebook and Twitter, are used by their opponents to advocate for these victims. A recent example which received celebrity awareness is the case of Cyntoia Brown, a teenage trafficking victim imprisoned for killing a client in self-defense.
In the new global economy, technology makes the business of human trafficking easier than ever. However, technology is used to combat traffickers in equal measure.