Abstract: In an effort to improve the efficacy of human trafficking reporting and data transfer, we propose to create an automated mobile application and website, which will be directly integrated to local and national law enforcement agencies as well as victim service providers. With victimization reporting abilities in English, Spanish, French, Arabic, and Portuguese this application will facilitate precise and automated data collection and transfer, accountability, accurate incidence measures, and the ability to test the effectiveness of anti human trafficking interventions.
a. Project Motivation: Given today’s current economic climate, there is an increasing importance placed on the cost effectiveness and efficacy of crime interventions. To that effect, this project proposes to create an automated victimization reporting mobile application and website to improve the accountability, accuracy, transferability, and cost efficiency of human trafficking tip reporting.
Currently, state and national organizations are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to staff and operate telephone based human trafficking tip lines. This costly method of tip reporting currently offers no means of accountability, no ability for secure data-sharing, and little to no empirically validated effect on increasing the number of arrests or convictions for human trafficking related crimes (see Polaris Project National Human Trafficking Tip Line). The rationale for our project is to automate this information gathering process through anonymous web-based and mobile application data collection tools. These products will collect data needed for law enforcement on human trafficking incidents, automate the data transfer to relevant law enforcement agencies, mechanize the victimization service feedback component, and allow for secure data sharing and follow up. In doing this, we expect to improve the efficiency of this process and facilitateincreased accountability of responding law enforcement agencies.
Human trafficking is a modern form of slavery, which involves the “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of threat, use of force or other forms of coercion, for the purpose of exploitation” (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2013). The United States is known as one of the only industrialized countries that trafficks its own citizens, with between 300,000 to 600,000 victims estimated annually by victim service providers like the Polaris Project. Human trafficking most frequently takes the form of commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor against women and children. Despite increasing efforts to address the issue of human trafficking, little progress has been made. This crime is of great concern to legislators, law enforcement agencies, and citizens in Maryland and the greater DC metropolitan area because this area is a human trafficking hotspot in which many girls are trafficked to and through (Kyckelhahn, Beck, and Cohen, 2009).
Following the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) in 2000, lobbyists, practitioners, academics, legislators, and law enforcement agencies have all clamored to evaluate and address the issue of human trafficking in the Unites States. One of the most notable attempts to combat human trafficking has been theincreasing use of the National Human Trafficking Hotline. According to the Polaris Project (2013), the hotline received approximately 1,500 calls per month in 2011. The annual calls more than tripled between 2008 and 2011 with 5,748 and 19,427 calls respectively. However, thus far this hotline has been costly and infrequently used for its intended purpose. The largest proportions of the calls they received were for unrelated matters (29%) and general information (25%). In fact, of the 19,427 callers in 2011, only 14% were reporting an actual tip, and 4% were in crisis(Polaris Project, 2013). We suggest that the alternative methods of reporting provided by our website and application will ultimately increase the number of victims identified and helped by law enforcement.
In addition to infrequent reporting of human trafficking tips, there is no method currently available for secure data transfer of human trafficking information to organizations working to combat human trafficking, nor is there follow up on actions taken by law enforcement agencies in response to a human trafficking tip, resulting in no accountability.
Follow-up and accountability is important because human trafficking arrests, prosecutions, and convictions are infrequent. According the Bureau of Justice Statistics fewer than 18% of human trafficking incidents reported by task forces lead to an arrest, and fewer than 5% lead to a conviction (Kyckelhahn, Beck, and Cohen, 2009). This information begins to question the utility of the phone based human trafficking tip line, since they may not have any effect in addressing the issue of human trafficking (Van der Laan, Smit, Busschers, and Aarten, 2011). In order to better allocate funds to address this heinous crime, we should efficiently and effectively collect tips through alternative methods, such as automated mobile applications and websites. By doing so we can continue collecting data on suspected incidents of human trafficking and share information on resources for human trafficking victims, but also improve accountability and research with data accessibility and follow up, without unnecessarily spending limited resources.
b. Project Description: The products created through this project include one website, one iOS mobile application, and one database for storing human trafficking tips. The website and mobile application will collect data on crime details, victim demographics, offender information, and miscellaneous material on human trafficking incidents. The website and mobile application will be marketed toward persons at high risk of encountering a victim of human trafficking or evidence of human trafficking, including but not limited to deep web users, commercial sex patrons, teens, and homeowners targeted by trafficked solicitation rings. These persons are unlikely to report incidence of human trafficking unless they have a safe and truly anonymous method of reporting, which is what we will create.
c. Innovation: This project is innovative because it creates agroundbreaking method of anonymous crime reporting, through a mobile iOS application and coordinated website. Automating this process with information provisions for respondents, law enforcement, and researchers facilitates a never-before-seen level of facility in information dissemination, and accountability in law enforcement response to human trafficking tips. Additionally, the website provides the first and only method of completely anonymous reporting, with unprecedented protections for witnesses of human trafficking. These tools have the prospect of shaping the future of anti human-trafficking efforts into evidence-based interventions with measurable outcomes.
In launching these forums for anonymous human trafficking incident reporting we expect to increase the number of human trafficking tips reported to police. This will provide a low cost alternative to the expensive telephone based human trafficking tip line operated by the Polaris Project, and this will be the only human trafficking tip operation that facilitates accountability and true anonymity. At six month intervals, our non FIA affiliated partner, the Justitia Institute will follow up on reported incidents and determine how many arrests, convictions, and investigations resulted from the tips our mobile application and website collected. Not only will this capitalize on and evaluate the outcome of our FIA seed grant endeavor, but also provide a data source to evaluate the prevalence of human trafficking, actions by law enforcement, and efficacy of interventions. Contributing to this project will make a lasting impact in effort to combat human trafficking locally in Maryland, and throughout the United States.
Signing this petition in support of our project application will help bring this idea to fruition. It tells funders that you would consider using these services to report suspected incidents of human trafficking. And it tells legislators that you support low cost innovative practices with measurable outcomes!
Thank you for your support!