A St. Louis company has developed a mobile app, called TraffickCam, that lets people upload hotel room photos to help law enforcement find sex trafficking victims being advertised online. Social action organization Exchange Initiative created the app in conjunction with researchers at Washington University in St. Louis. Exchange Initiative Development Director Kimberly Ritter says hotels are common venues where traffickers exploit their victims.
“Law enforcement is now beta testing the ability to drag and drop the photo of a victim and this data point recognition now will pull the most probable hotel room that victim is in,” says Ritter.
According to national statistics, more than 40% of sexual human trafficking occurs inside hotels and motels.
The app asks users to take four photos of their hotel room, typically one in every corner of the room and one of the bathroom. Ritter says patterns in the carpeting, furniture, window views and room accessories are matched against a database of submitted images to help law enforcement figure out what hotel the photo might have been taken in.
Early testing was successful with the app being 85% accurate in identifying the right hotel within the top 20 potential matches.
According to Ark of Hope for Children, about 300,000 Americans under 18 are lured into the commercial sex trade each year. The Exchange Initiative says
human trafficking is a $32 billion-a-year industry – becoming the second most profitable industry in the world after drug trafficking.
“I have seen the girls and the boys come off of the streets and come out of the life. No person should be sold for sex and I will do everything I can to end this for as long as I have to do it,” says Ritter.
About 93,000 people have downloaded TrafficCam and 1.6 million pictures are in the database. It does not collect any personal information.
The Exchange Initiative hopes to release the app for use by law enforcement in February.