Apps and Services Combat Sex Trafficking

With human trafficking on the rise in Florida, several travel apps and tech startups are developing strategies to prevent people from being exploited.

According to the Florida Department of Children and Families, there were 1,900 cases of human trafficking in the Sunshine State, an increase of 54 percent from last year. Nationally, the Polaris Project — a Washington D.C. organization that records the number of calls to the national trafficking hotline — reported that Florida has the third most calls behind Texas and California.

Room sharing service Airbnb already has a huge influence in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, with nearly half of its 16,100 residences in those two areas. Benjamin Breit, a press secretary for Airbnb, says that while the organization does not have any official policy, they work with outside groups to prevent people from being exploited.

“We work with a number of organizations, including INTERPOL, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Blue Campaign to help train employees on identification and prevention of trafficking,” Breit wrote in an email. “We're also constantly evaluating additional steps we can take in this area and will be working with Thorn to pilot their tool.”

Besides using Thorn — an organization that mainly works to prevent child sex trafficking — and those national partnerships, Airbnb also has a separate branch of its organization that is dedicated to assisting local law enforcement in preventing and investigating trafficking incidents.

“Our Law Enforcement Engagement team, which includes former law enforcement officers and experts in their field, works to protect our community through collaboration with law enforcement, proactive criminal risk mitigation, detailed investigations, and crime analysis,” Breit wrote. “Part of their mission is to proactively partner with organizations and local authorities all over the world to help confront human trafficking.”

Users themselves are also securing their listings to make renters feel safe. Peggy, an Airbnb renter since December 2015 in Fort Lauderdale, said that there is a risk to the listings but she does not see any trouble and takes measures to protect her property.

“I have cameras in my property and alarm and my customers know about it. My guests don't have access to my home,” she said. “The room is totally private, I have not heard any bad news so far doing Airbnb.”

There are also apps that are beginning to combat the spread of the crime. One such application is TraffickCam, an app available on Apple and Android devices that was created by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis and Exchange Initiative.

The app allows for users to upload photos of their hotel room to a database. Those photos are later used to identify rooms that are seen in photos for prostitution and other sex listings to act on cases of potential trafficking.

Even with over 157,156 hotels in its database and 120,532 users over Android and Apple, the app is just beginning its fight into Florida. But if it can stick around, TraffickCam, with the help of Airbnb, can target and work toward tackling human trafficking.

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