Does This New App Really Help Sex Trafficking Victims?

Sex trafficking doesn’t only happen in certain parts of the world. You might not know it, but it’s everywhere, including the United States. And your city could be profiting from it tremendously. With minors.

The original intent of TraffickCam, a new and applauded mobile app, was to fight sex trafficking. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports the project was result of Maplewood conference planners and a 26-year-old developer from Washington University.

Before unpacking, users can capture photos of their St. Louis hotel rooms to upload to the app for free. These photos are dumped into a national database created by data analysts. Police officers also contribute photos taken of sex trafficking victims.

Through this system, algorithms help match victims with specific hotels and provide direction for law enforcement. In fact, this specific algorithm can identify a hotel match with the first 20 photos approximately 80 percent of the time. However, the new app is still in the early stages; this information is based on test trials.

Hypothetically, if everyday travelers can help the police track down victims, that must help victims, right? Although it can pull victims out of their sex trafficking situation, it can further incriminate them without proper rehabilitation. Unfortunately, law enforcement typically punish sex trafficking victims before offering help and rehabilitation (if they even do that at all). In sex trafficking cases, reporting incidents (or even tips) to the police can work against victims.

In an Explain Things to Me podcast episode, lawyer Nadeah Turshani touches upon the criminalization of sex workers. Oftentimes, when a case of sex trafficking is reported to the police, authorities punish victims for criminal activity. This isn’t exclusive to just prostitution, either. It’s common for victims to carry drugs and be involved with other types of illicit activities.

Turshani discusses how cops can arrest victims on the street, rather than tracking down their traffickers: “It’s easier for an undercover police officer to approach a young woman on the track and arrest them for the solicitation. It doesn’t mean they’re not trying. They find it easier to go ahead and push that conviction through. Eventually, there’s never a strong investigation against the actual trafficker.”

As a step forward, the laywer recommends shielding sex trafficking survivors from criminal liability. ”Help them get into more shelters and services,” she stresses. “Help them get a job.” Education around trafficking (including labor) also helps bring awareness and reduce stigma towards survivors. Visit Polaris to learn about recognizing signs of trafficking.

Rather than involving the police, there is an alternative way to report trafficking. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center offers a toll-free, confidential hotline at 1-888-373-7888. You can also submit a tip using this online form. Although their policies could involve contacting the police, they respect a survivor’s preference not to report to authorities. However, in cases of child abuse or imminent hard, the NHTRC is required to report incidents.

LGBT Youth

According to the U.S. Department of State, young LGBT people are at an especially high risk for sex trafficking due to high rates of homelessness. In fact, 40 percent of homeless children identify as LGBT. More than 25 percent of LGBT youth are kicked out of their homes. When families (and surrounding communities) reject LGBT youth, they might end up on the streets alone. This leaves them vulnerable to being picked up by sex traffickers, which are likely disguised as someone looking to care for a young, homeless person, especially when it feels like no one else will.


This app misses the point because it connects directly to law enforcement, rather than offering a safe asylum to victims. Police can prosecute sex trafficking victims for crimes without acknowledging the coercion and vulnerability they face. Especially in cases of LGBT youth, it could ultimately cause victims to end up where they started: homeless. Rather than reporting tips to the police, consider contacting the National Human Trafficking Resource Center first.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Batista S.
Past Member about a year ago

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Cabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

Marie W.
Marie Wabout a year ago

Modern day slavery.

Raghavendra Singh

Every effort must be applauded, let the data collected tell if they will. Meanwhile please make more such apps and ideas to help protect helpless.

Elizabeth Brawn
Elizabeth Brawn1 years ago


Karen Swenson
Karen Swenson1 years ago

@Freddy R---You say Prostitution has always been with us, so might as well legalize it. Well Freddy, so has Pedophilia, bestiality, Rape, abuse, thievery, Murder, and OH Freddy--ABORTION, so with thinking like that-- might as well legalize everything--Abortion has been legalized, but that somehow doesn't matter to you and people like you, if women have to go back to butchers. Are you so Stupid that you think a Prostitute NEVER gets Pregnant? Again--Educate yourself, but I'm asking too much of you I realize! However, as long as it's something men like you want--legally buying women--well then, we get all kinds of understanding from you. No bombs, murder, harassing, picketing then--Right?

Ora S.
Past Member 1 years ago

Start working at home with Google! It's by-far the best job I've had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this - 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go to tech tab for work detail.

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Shirley S.
Shirley S1 years ago

Anything that can put a stop to this horrific human abuse has to be considered.

william Miller
william Miller1 years ago


Past Member
Past Member 1 years ago

Karen and Ed O. I agree with you but tonia made a good point. My friend was threatened with a lowlife squatter in her house and NYPD cops did NOT do their job and take down report. A five year old would know to do that.