There is a new tool to fight human trafficking, and this one involves the public at large.
TraffickCam is a free app that enables smartphone users to actively fight sex trafficking, by uploading photos of the hotel rooms stayed in while travelling.
TraffickCam was created in 2015 by the Exchange Initiative, an American association committed to combatting commercial sexual exploitation of children.
According to EI, human traffickers regularly use photos of their victims posed in hotel and motel rooms for online advertisements.
The purpose of TraffickCam is to create a database of hotel room images that an investigator can efficiently search, in order to find other images that were taken in the same location as an image that is part of an investigation.
Features such as patterns in the carpeting, furniture, room accessories and window views are matched against the database of submitted images to provide law enforcement with a list of potential hotels where the photo may have been taken.
The app was launched earlier this year, and the response to date has been staggering.
“It was just released in June and right now we have 1.6 million pictures that 92,000 people have downloaded,” said Kimberly Ritter, director of development for Exchange Initiative.
Currently, the app is only being used by law enforcement agencies in the United States, but Ritter is hopeful the app catches on internationally.
“At this time, we are beta-testing with local law enforcement here in St. Louis, Missouri, and over the next few months, we will spread it out to additional law enforcement agencies, to beta-test it here in the States,” she said. “So we are not international at this time, but any pictures that come in, and we are getting them from around the globe – we are keeping all the photographs we are getting. Then, as we expand, we will be (prepared). I would guess that Canada would be the logical next step for us to expand to.”
When contacted by The Record, Cpl. Jassy Bindra, who is the B.C. RCMP human trafficking co-ordinator, said she was unfamiliar with the app. Calls to the RCMP Human Trafficking National Co-ordination Centre were not returned.
In the meantime, Canadians can get involved.
The app is available for iPhones and Androids, and there is also a process to upload hotel room photos to a website (traffickcam.com), for those without access to mobile apps.