Just snapping a photo of your hotel room the next time you go on vacation could help save a trafficking victim.
Human trafficking is the world’s fastest growing crime, and victims who are exploited for sex aren’t just getting victimized in unsuspecting homes and closed off backrooms.
Hotels are optimal spots for traffickers to exploit their victims because they can pay for the rooms in cash and change locations on a nightly basis without being detected.
From 2007 to last year, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center and Polaris’s BeFree texting helpline received 1,434 reports of human trafficking in hotels and motels.
That’s why TraffickCam, a new app, is urging vacationers to upload pictures of their hotel rooms. The goal is to create a database of hotel rooms to match up against photos that pimps post online.
Traffickers often upload photos of their victims in hotel rooms as a form of advertisement, assuming authorities will be unlikely to identify where the picture was taken. TraffickCam hopes to change that.
Patterns in the carpeting, furniture, room accessories and window views are matched up against the database of photos submitted by travelers in order to provide law enforcement with a list of potential hotels where the image could’ve been taken, according to a company press release. Early testing showed that the app is 85 percent accurate in identifying hotels
Developed last year by social action organization Exchange Initiative and researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, the database already has 1.5 million photos from more than 145,000 hotels in every major metropolitan area of the U.S.
Molly Hackett, principal of the Exchange Initiative and Nix – a group that combats the exploitation of children -- said there was one case in particular, which inspired her to move forward with the app.
The groups were working with law enforcement to identify a hotel room where a child was photographed and being trafficked.
“Our pivotal moment for developing the app came when we couldn’t identify a motel room. We connected the vice squad with our associates in that city, but it took three days to find the girl,” Hackett said in a statement. “That seemed way too long, given today’s technology.”
TraffickCam is continuing to work on expanding its database and is collecting donations in order to do so. Learn more about the app and what you can do here.
Need help? In the U.S., contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center(NHTRC) at 1-888-373-7888.