Human Trafficking Hotlines Offer Help and Data

Aggregated information can tell police about new trafficking patterns and hot spots.

Hotlines for human trafficking victims can do more than just help one victim at a time, Bradley Myles, chief executive of the nonprofit Polaris Project, told lawmakers Tuesday.

When information from multiple hotlines is brought together it can be a major data source for law enforcement and researchers studying human trafficking’s patterns and hot spots, Myles told members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The State Department is funding a Polaris project to map and identify every existing human trafficking hotline around the world, to offer training to under-resourced hotlines and to fund new ones in target countries.

Polaris launched a Global Human Trafficking Hotline Network in April along with several other nonprofits and funding from Google.  The network will focus on increasing cooperation between the disparate collection of anti-trafficking hotlines that already exist, launching new hotlines where they don’t exist, better sharing data between them and aggregating that information in a way that’s helpful for law enforcement, Myles said.

Many anti-trafficking hotlines accept text messages, emails and social media posts along with traditional calls, Myles said, though some still lag. Their effectiveness is also bolstered by the spread of mobile phones worldwide, he said.

“Hotlines around the world are essentially hidden gems,” Myles said. “They’re under-resourced, they’re under-publicized, they’re uncoordinated and they’re not fully maximizing their potential to identify victims, to connect them with services and to understand how to fight this crime.”

Officials have increasingly looked to technological innovations to help combat human trafficking. White House Chief Technology Officer Todd Park and First Lady Michelle Obama’s Chief of Staff Tina Tchen highlighted some of those innovations during a White House forum in April.