Saturday, July 30, 2011

Using technology to reduce sex trafficking

I don't remember a lot of dates or figures from however many years I studied history while growing up, but I remembered Eli Whitney's cotton gin, an invention that facilitated the processing of cotton... and by the way increased the traffic in human slaves, because now there was a cheap way to process all that cotton picked by forced labor.

Tonight, while listening to a CD from this year's Freedom Summit, I heard of a way that technology is being used to instead reduce human trafficking.

Here's how it works. A man comes to town on a business trip. He doesn't know anybody and doesn't have anything he urgently needs to do. So he pulls out his laptop, checks out craigslist or some similar site and flips to the "adult escort" section or whatever. There he sees a picture of a young-looking girl. "Click here to set up a date with this hottie," it says, possibly naming a price.

So he clicks; instead of a picture of a scantily clad young girl he gets something like this:

There might be an announcement that "You just tried to buy sex; be advised that the __________ Police Department will be enforcing anti-prostitution laws vigorously."

Here's something even better: a map with a red dot; the guy looks at the dot's position on the map and sees it's on the same block as his hotel!

OK, I was so excited by this use of technology that I forgot to give you the background. There's a theory about sex trafficking that says, there are a lot of men out there wanting to buy sex -- more men wanting to buy than women willing to sell. Sex traffickers see that the market is unbalanced, that money is being left on the table, so they kidnap, coerce, force women to sell themselves against their will.

According to this theory (which I actually believe), if fewer men want to buy sex, fewer women and children will be trafficked and forced into prostitution. Therefore it's a good idea to reduce or eliminate demand. If men think it extremely risky to set up a prostitution appointment online, fewer online prostitution appointments will be set up. And whereas lots of men may be willing to go onto a craigslist-like website, they may not be willing to get into their cars and go cruising around downtown looking for a street prostitute. And so demand would drop and with it the economic incentives for human sex trafficking.

If the demand were to almost completely disappear, so would the amount of human sex trafficking. So goes the theory.

A couple of issues with this concept: first, the concern about the whole Police State thing. Hey, if google knows where you are, why can't the cops know? I'm not talking about giving the police any additional powers here; I just mean that they can use whatever information is out there for commercial enterprises (including sex traffickers by the way) could use.

Another issue is that mapping by IP address is somewhat tenuous. My IP address (which isn't static by the way) appears on maps to be over 50 miles away from my house; if someone uses a mifi-like portable hotspot, geographical information probably isn't there. But a G3/G4 enabled smart phone? H'm...

I was reading recently in WHAT WENT WRONG? (by Lewis) that technology served to strengthen tyranny in the middle east, up until recent times. I already mentioned the cotton gin. And you can be sure that despite denials by the communist bandits in Peking (hey, they say hwa-sheng-dwun; I can say Peking) the bad guys use IT to extend their reach.

So it's very exciting to me to hear about ways information technology is being used for something really good and ultimately important.

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