When you think of anti-trafficking work, data is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. But in our fight against human trafficking, data coupled with innovative technology has proved to be a formidable weapon.
Shanni* was spotted by Love Justice transit monitors standing alone looking concerned and fearful. Dressed in village garb, she was tightly clutching a bag on her lap. After about a half hour, she began wandering around the bus station, seemingly searching for someone. Shanni continued to look lost and bewildered, so Love Justice transit monitors decided to approach her and ask if she needed assistance.
Because of key red flags that our monitors observed, they felt finding out more about her was warranted. As Shanni shared her story, more red flags were uncovered. She had met her boyfriend, Batin*, recently at a wedding in a nearby village. Before the wedding festivities were over, he had asked her for her cell phone number so they could stay in contact with each other. They talked frequently after Shanni returned to her own village until eventually, he won her trust. Batin asked Shanni if she would be his girlfriend.
As her trust grew, Shanni told Batin about her family’s impoverished existence. As any caring boyfriend would, he offered to help. He told Shanni he could get her a job, and he promised her a salary of what amounted to about $150 per month. Shanni knew a good monthly salary like that would help her family tremendously. Even though she knew nothing about the job itself, she trusted Batin because he loved her. And when he proved his devotion by proposing to her, Shanni decided to elope with him.
Not too many days later, Shanni packed up a change of clothes, what little money she had, and her cell phone, and then she ran away to meet Batin. They slept together at a cabin he knew of on the first night of their trip. The next morning, Batin told Shanni to tell anyone who asked that they were already married.
A day later, they arrived at the station. Batin told her the area they were in was very dangerous and that it would be safest if he kept her money and cell phone. Shanni agreed and gave everything to him except for her bag of clothes. Batin led her to a bench and told her to wait there while he went to buy them something to eat. That’s where our transit monitors found Shanni and began suspecting she was in danger of being trafficked.
More red flags in Africa
Meanwhile, on another continent, things can look very different. While the same forms of insidious trafficking are present in Africa, transit monitors working there have their own set of red flags to be aware of. Because trafficking for hard labor and debt bondage are common in this part of the world, boys and young men are often vulnerable.
In the southeastern part of Africa, a family with two fifth-grade boys was living in extreme poverty. The entire area had been affected, and this family was not the only one going hungry. The parents were desperate to provide for their children, so when a middle-aged man named Thambo* approached them and offered their boys seasonal farming work, the parents readily accepted the generous opportunity. Shortly after, Thambo and the two young boys set out on their journey.
Our border monitors are trained to vigilantly look for these specific red flags that point to suspicious behavior. In these two cases, staff members stationed on different continents recognized two distinct sets of red flags related to two unique victim profiles, resulting in crucial interceptions before damage was done.
The red flags that our transit monitors are armed with are a result of diligent data collection. The data that leads to the red flags comes from interviews with victims and traffickers, police and case reports, information from our investigative team, and various informants. A wealth of information is used to set these flags.
In addition, we employ machine learning, a cutting-edge form of artificial intelligence, to weight the flags. Because of this technology, transit monitors know which red flags are indicative of a high risk of trafficking and which ones simply warrant further investigation. They also know which red flags are most relevant to the different parts of the world where we work.
We are incredibly excited about the ways we can harness the power of this data to further the fight against human trafficking. Our transit monitoring strategy allows us to understand and analyze trends and trafficking networks around the globe that we otherwise wouldn't have access to, as well as share this information with other anti-trafficking organizations in this crucial fight.
*Names have been changed for the security and privacy of all those involved.