Technology Is On The Rise In Human Trafficking

A New Study from Thorn Reveals That Technology is Being Widely Used to Recruit, Groom and Sell Sex Trafficking Victims

Mar 02, 2015, 06:00 ET from Thorn

LOS ANGELES, March 2, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- THORN: Digital Defenders of Children, a non-profit organization dedicated to driving technology innovation to fight child sexual exploitation, today released a report based on a yearlong study undertaken in partnership with Dr. Vanessa Bouche, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Texas Christian University (TCU), to better understand the ways in which traffickers leverage various technology platforms to recruit, groom, and sell domestic minor sex trafficking victims.

Thorn and TCU partnered with 14 survivor organizations across the country to survey and interview more than 100 victims. The study reveals that the Internet is being leveraged increasingly by controllers to meet, develop relationships with, and advertise for sale trafficking victims for the purpose of commercial sex. Interestingly, victims recruited more recently have freer access to various communication devices, including cell phones and the Internet, than they did in the past.  Therefore, there is not only significant opportunity to leverage the Internet to prevent recruitment of young victims, but also to inform young victims in the life about options to seek help.  

"The Internet can be a powerful tool for good and for bad," according to Julie Cordua, Thorn CEO.  "This study not only helps us better understand how trafficking victims are exploited via technology, but also provides insight that demonstrates how technology can be a tool to help victims and protect vulnerable children."

To read the full report, please go to

Key findings:

Online Advertising: 63% of the victims report being advertised online.

Cell Phones: The majority of respondents had cell phones and 42% of respondents report that they had access to Internet while they were being trafficked. Of those with Internet access, a little over half report having full access with no monitoring on the part of the controller. Particularly, younger respondents recruited more recently are more likely to have cell phone and Internet access, and their Internet access is less likely to be monitored.

Texting: More than half of the respondents reported using text messaging to communicate with buyers. Also, it appears that victims recruited more recently are significantly more likely than victims recruited further in the past to communicate with buyers via text messaging.

Desire for Help: 80% of victims reported that they wanted help while they were in the life at some point. 64% specifically wanted help escaping. 65% of victims reported that nobody ever or hardly ever reached out to them while they were in the life.

When asked if they had ever seen a number for a hotline offering help, 72% reported never seeing any number at all, despite the fact that 50% said they would have wanted to receive a national hotline number or information about a local agency that could help.

Information garnered from this report can and will lead to actions and programs to aid in the fight against trafficking. For instance, findings demonstrate that victims recruited more recently are likely to have access to cell phones with text message capability. This presented a unique opportunity for technology to be used as a help resource for victims. Thorn partnered with Polaris, Twilio and Salesforce to launch a texting helpline, building on the services available through the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC), which Polaris operates. In addition to accepting calls, emails, and webforms through the NHTRC, Polaris now has text-messaging capabilities through the BEFREE text shortcode. The BEFREE text shortcode was deployed in March 2013 and preliminary findings show that victims themselves are texting the hotline at more than double the rate they are calling the hotline.

Thorn and TCU are currently deploying an updated survey. If you or your organization is interested in participating, please email  According to Dr. Vanessa Bouche, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Texas Christian University (TCU), "While the results of the inaugural survey shed light on the intersection of technology and domestic minor sex trafficking today, this is only one snapshot in time. Rapid changes in technology, coupled with controllers adapting to new environmental conditions, dictate that this survey be conducted over and over again to stay ahead of trends and changes and to inform effective intervention strategies."

About Thorn
Thorn drives technology innovation to fight child sexual exploitation. Thorn partners with nonprofits and academic institutions to gather new insights into the role technology plays in child sex trafficking, the creation and proliferation of child pornography, and the normalization of child sexual exploitation. Thorn then goes beyond insight to action to develop the tools, systems and approaches to help address these issues. Thorn has also created a Technology Task Force — a group of more than 25 technology companies that collaborate on technology initiatives to fight child sexual exploitation. Participating companies include Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Symantec, SV Angel, Connotate, Conversion Voodoo, DataXu, Irdeto, Mozilla, SalesForce Foundation, Digital Reasoning, Palantir and others. For more information on Thorn, please visit ,follow us on Twitter @THORN and  

About Texas Christian University
Founded in 1873, TCU is a world-class, values-centered private university based in Fort Worth, Texas. The University is comprised of eight schools and colleges offering 117 areas of undergraduate study, 62 master's level programs and 25 areas of doctoral study. Total enrollment stands at 10,033, including 8,647 undergraduates and 1,386 graduate students. The student/faculty ratio is about 13:1, and 84 percent of TCU's 588 full-time faculty members hold the highest degree in their discipline. TCU consistently ranks among the top universities and colleges in the nation, and the Horned Frog family consists of some 85,000 living alumni. For more information, please visit