Last week a New York Times article “Online Sex Trade is Flourishing Despite Efforts to Curb It” brought renewed attention to the role that technology plays in human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, “sex trafficking” is the “recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act”. The article highlights the how technology has had both a deleterious and a positiv effect on attempts end sex trafficking:

The sites display ads for sex services, and they also serve as online communities where customers, pimps and prostitutes can arrange business deals, share police sightings and swap tips. Law enforcement officials said the online trade has, in some ways, made sex trafficking and solicitation easier, while giving the police new insight into a historically hidden, underground culture.
“It’s a great tool for us, to be honest,” said Detective Jeremy Martinez of the San Jose Police Human Trafficking Task Force. “I know there was a lot of applause when Craigslist’s erotic services got brought down, but for us it was a fishing pond we could go to.”
Casey Bates, who supervises the Alameda County district attorney’s human trafficking unit, said law enforcement officials have “a love-hate relationship” with online sex sites. “It’s despicable, what’s going on,” Mr. Bates said, “but they allow us to show a jury in very graphic terms what’s going on between provider and john.”

What are the trending ways in which technology is being used to promote sex trafficking? According to “Human Trafficking Online: The Role of Social Networking Sites and Online Classifieds”, published by the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism in 2011, certain patterns begin to emerge:

1) Online classified sites are used to post advertisements of victims
2) social networking sites are used in the recruitment of victims
3) investigations may begin with a picture of what appears to be an underage girl in an online classified ad, and
4) a number of victims have been identified as runaways

The Annenberg report also includes information on how companies like Microsoft and Facebook are joining the fight to identify victims through natural language processing, facial recognition, and mapping technologies and cooperate with law enforcement professionals to seek justice for victims.
What can you do to use technology to support victims? You can visit the California Attorney General’s Human Trafficking widget’s page, which hosts images that you can place on your website and social media sites. Here’s a sample:

What are other ways that you or your agency can use technology to support victims of trafficking and the prosecution of their traffickers?