Freedom Signal

Technology to Combat Online Sex Trafficking

As our daily lives become increasingly tech-enabled, it comes as no surprise that abuse within our communities also innovates with technology. The demand and prevalence of sex trafficking online have grown steadily, where buyers expect the fast convenience and an array of options like ordering a product online. With more and more sex trafficking moving online, it becomes both easier to find victims and harder to distinguish criminal activity.

Seattle Against Slavery has developed an integrated set of technologies to disrupt the purchase and sale of trafficked sex online. We call this platform Freedom Signal. Freedom Signal consists of six pillars:

  1. Online search result ads in response to sex buyer searches to stop buyers before they engage
  2. Social media ads targeting likely sex buyers online for deterrence messaging
  3. Chatbots that simulate a trafficking victim via text message to deter, delay, and gather data on sex buyers
  4. Victim outreach via text message to ads where sex is sold online
  5. Deterrence websites that illustrate the harms and consequences of buying trafficked sex
  6. Data analysis to increase the accuracy and effectiveness of buyer disruption

By utilizing online search platforms such as Google and Bing in addition to Facebook & Instagram for social media ads, we effectively engage with potential buyers and likely sex buyers through partnerships with these businesses. Using businesses such as these that already have heavy market saturation, our campaigns provide ways to educate and promote the deterrence model in measurable engagements with private sector businesses.

Project Intercept, a victim outreach & buyer deterrence software, was born out of volunteer engineering efforts. By using chatbots with language AI designed by survivors of trafficking and prostitution, the software allows us to post decoy victims online and gather intelligence about how, when, and where people are attempting to buy trafficked sex online. The automated texting outreach side of the platform helps local survivor advocates connect with and help potential victims, leading to over 70 people getting the services they needed to exit sex trafficking in 2017.

The chatbot gathers data on buyers, both individual evidence for law enforcement and for data analysis on information such as location, age, employer, and intent. Interacting with a chatbot delays and confuses buyers, decreasing the confidence necessary for buyers to follow through on their exploitation or violate the law. The platform also allows for the reporting of crimes directly to law enforcement, with features in development to flag and alerts law enforcement in cases of sex offenders, violent felons, or parolees attempting to buy sex.

SAS technology is now used across the country to fight sex trafficking—and we’re still a remote volunteer engineering team! We are currently facing challenges such as internationalization, rapid growth, and an ever-changing online landscape, but as we move forward in our mission to create a world without exploitation, we’ve found a model and path forward using tech for good.