Technology Is the Key to Combatting Child Sex Trade, White House Says

U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park

U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park Flickr user worldbank

Traffickers rely on Web tools; police should do the same, fed CIO says.

As child sex traffickers are increasingly relying on Internet and mobile tools to ply their trade, child advocates and police must use new Internet and data mining tools to combat the illicit market, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park said at a symposium Wednesday.

Park and First Lady Michelle Obama’s Chief of Staff Tina Tchen hosted a White House forum in April that featured technological innovations designed to combat sex trafficking, raise awareness and help trafficking victims reintegrate into society.

Among those innovations was a tool that allows trafficking victims to exchange text messages with the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline rather than simply calling. That will open up the hotline to victims who are being constantly monitored by traffickers, according to a statement from developers.

The texting function was developed by Polaris Project, which operates the national hotline, and Thorn, an anti-trafficking nonprofit founded by actors Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore.

Thorn has also developed a new tool that can help investigators identify child sex trafficking victims in online ads using automated analysis, Park said during Wednesday’s symposium sponsored by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

IBM, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland are working on photo manipulation tools that can better identify trafficking victims in online photos, Park said. The U.S. government is also working to break down interagency barriers to sharing trafficking data, he said.

The International Labor Organization estimated that 4.5 million people were victims of forced sexual exploitation worldwide in June, 2012. The U.S. is the ILO’s largest donor and member state.

“Technology has played a significant role in enabling and facilitating the sale of girls and young women online for sex,” Park said. “We cannot and should not cede this ground. We need to use the power of technology to fight back.”

(Image via Flickr user worldbank)