World Day Against Trafficking in Persons: Use and Abuse of Technology

World Day Against Trafficking in Persons is this month on July 30. The United Nations General Assembly introduced this day in 2013 in order to “raise awareness of the situation of victims of human trafficking and for the promotion and protection of their rights.”1 The 2022 theme of World Day Against Trafficking in Persons is “Use and Abuse of Technology,” recognizing the harmful potential of technology and how human trafficking weaponizes tech for evil. At the same time, the United Nations is calling on us to reclaim tech and use its power to fight exploitation.

As we all turned to technology more and more following the onset of the pandemic, this expanded reliance did not only apply to how we communicated regularly with Zoom and other platforms. Increased digital platform use makes it much easier for traffickers to exploit, coerce and communicate with other exploitative criminals with just a few clicks.2 Technology can be used by traffickers during every step of their crimes: identifying future victims, coercing them and laundering profits made through the act of trafficking. Different technologies are used for different types of trafficking. In the case of labor trafficking, technology is used to create fraudulent job advertisements meant to lure victims. Dating websites allow for the geolocalization of victims, while chat rooms and apps like WhatsApp give traffickers the anonymity they want.3

The Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that 40 percent of sex trafficking victims are recruited online.4 According to Alexandra Gelber, the deputy chief for policy and legislation of this department, “over 80 percent of the U.S. Department of Justice’s sex trafficking prosecutions involved online advertising.”5 Thus, it is clear how widespread the use of tech is for exploitation due to its convenience and anonymity.

However, with the increased use of technology for trafficking purposes, law enforcement and tech experts must use technology and all its capabilities to fight digital crimes. Law enforcement agencies use digital intelligence (DI) technology that has automated data systems to preserve social media data, activities and cloud-based content that can be quickly accessed in human trafficking investigations.6 The United Nations’ Office on Drugs and Crime hosted the “DataJam Against Exploitation” in coordination with IBM and the Columbian non-governmental organization Fundación Pasos Libres, where university students designed technology-based solutions to identify and protect human trafficking victims using IBM’s tools.7 The winning entry from the DataJam, “Buyer Resist,” was created by five young software developers from British Columbia, Canada. This software system uses data to pinpoint organized crime and sex trafficking. Its algorithms examine public sources like escort listing sites and identify data patterns that correlate with advertisements posted by traffickers.8

Likewise, the coalition of tech companies called Tech Against Trafficking, which includes technological giants such as Amazon and Microsoft, examines their global supply chain to identify potential opportunities for human exploitation.9

On this 2022 World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, we honor all survivors of trafficking and those who work to fight its international system. In light of this year’s technology-based theme, although technology is the method that traffickers use, we must recognize the power we have to use technology to combat and prevent trafficking both in law enforcement and as citizens.

Learn more about World Day Against Trafficking through the United Nations World Day Against Trafficking Announcement.


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