Categories for Technology

FBI Working To Protect Children From Human Trafficking

June 28, 2022

MIDLAND, Texas — Finding children who have either run away or been trafficked is becoming a bigger concern for law enforcement.

It was just a few days ago that 70 children were found and recovered in Midland, Ector, El Paso and Tom Green counties after a three week long operation.

Many of those children were runaways and some were also victims of abuse and trafficking.

Missing children, whether they are running away or being trafficked, are a big concern for law enforcement. This is why government agencies such as the FBI will work hand-in-hand with local law enforcement.

“We work very closely with our local law enforcement partners,” Aida Reyes, the FBI’s Supervisory Special Agent of the Violent Crimes Against Children and Human Trafficking Squad, said. “So whenever there is an effort to locate children or to try and find to avert a disaster of somebody taking a child or engaging in sexual activity with a child, we do collaborate amongst all of us and put resources into making sure that we find these children.”

Read the full story by Jonathan Polasek on News West 9.

A 17-Year-Old Boy Died By Suicide Hours After Being Scammed. The FBI Says It’s Part Of A Troubling Increase In ‘Sextortion’ Cases.

June 7, 2022

(CNN)Ryan Last received a message on a school night in February from someone he believed to be a girl.

Within hours, the 17-year-old, straight-A student and Boy Scout had died by suicide.

“Somebody reached out to him pretending to be a girl, and they started a conversation,” his mother, Pauline Stuart, told CNN, fighting back tears as she described what happened to her son days after she and Ryan had finished visiting several colleges he was considering attending after graduating high school.

The online conversation quickly grew intimate, and then turned criminal.

The scammer—posing as a young girl—sent Ryan a nude photo and then asked Ryan to share an explicit image of himself in return. Immediately after Ryan shared an intimate photo of his own, the cybercriminal demanded $5,000, threatening to make the photo public and send it to Ryan’s family and friends.

The San Jose, California, teen told the cybercriminal he could not pay the full amount, and the demand was ultimately lowered to a fraction of the original figure—$150. But after paying the scammers from his college savings, Stuart said, “They kept demanding more and more and putting lots of continued pressure on him.”

At the time, Stuart knew none of what her son was experiencing. She learned the details after law enforcement investigators reconstructed the events leading up to his death.

She had said goodnight to Ryan at 10 p.m., and described him as her usually happy son. By 2 a.m., he had been scammed, and taken his life. Ryan left behind a suicide note describing how embarrassed he was for himself and the family.

Read the full story by Josh Campbell and Jason Kravarik on CNN.

Mississippians Can Report Suspected Human Trafficking On New Website

November 11, 2021

Mississippi has launched an anti-human trafficking website aimed at supporting victims and providing citizens with a way to report suspected trafficking.

Department of Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell said human trafficking is occurring in small towns across Mississippi.

“We want the public to be our eyes and ears and help us when there are victims of human trafficking, people that they suspect may be victims,” Tindell said. “Giving them a means and a way to report that information and recognize those victims when they come across them.”

Globally, human trafficking affects 12 to 27 million people, from adults to children, who are held in slavery, according to the Mississippi State Department of Health.

Tindell said often times in Mississippi some families get caught up in drug use, leaving children neglected. In some cases, the children are used as commodities for drugs for family members, he said.

The department has been working with the governor’s office, state attorney general and the legislature to pass laws addressing the criminality of trafficking and how to help victims in their road to recovery.

Read the full story by Gabriela Szymanowska on The Mississippi Clarion Ledger.

Over Half Of Online Recruitment In Active Sex Trafficking Cases Last Year Occurred On Facebook, Report Says

July 8, 2021

The majority of online recruitment in active sex trafficking cases in the U.S. last year took place on Facebook, according to the Human Trafficking Institute’s 2020 Federal Human Trafficking Report.

“The internet has become the dominant tool that traffickers use to recruit victims, and they often recruit them on a number of very common social networking websites,” Human Trafficking Institute CEO Victor Boutros said on CBSN Wednesday. “Facebook overwhelmingly is used by traffickers to recruit victims in active sex trafficking cases.”

Active cases include those in which defendants were charged in 2020, as well as those in which defendants were charged in previous years and charges were still pending in trial last year or the case was on appeal.

Data from the last two decades included in the human trafficking report showed that 30% of all victims identified in federal sex trafficking cases since 2000 were recruited online.

In 2020 in the U.S., 59% of online recruitment of identified victims in active cases took place on Facebook alone. The report also states that 65% of identified child sex trafficking victims recruited on social media were recruited through Facebook.

The tech giant responded to the report’s findings in a statement to CBS News: “Sex trafficking and child exploitation are abhorrent and we don’t allow them on Facebook. We have policies and technology to prevent these types of abuses and take down any content that violates our rules.”

Read the full story by Elizabeth Elkind on CBS News.

Experts: Pandemic Likely Led To Increase In Child Sex Trafficking

June 10, 2021

MILWAUKEE —Sex trafficking of children has likely increased since the pandemic started, according to law enforcement and community advocates.

Keeping kids home during the pandemic was meant to protect them.

However, it led to a huge jump in time spent online and for vulnerable minors, a downward spiral.

“A lot of our victims meet their traffickers on social media,” said Detective Rodney Gonzales. Gonzales is a detective with Milwaukee Police Department’s sensitive crimes unit and has been with MPD for 24 years. “About half of my victims are juveniles and I’ve had human trafficking victims as young as 12, 13.”

WISN 12 News investigated the number of reported cases.

According to MPD, the number of reported cases in sex trafficking of minors decreased in 2020, from 30 reported cases in 2019 to 17 reported cases last year.

However, Gonzales and his partner, Detective Anna Ojdana, said those statistics don’t tell the full story.

“I think all the numbers are underreported. We do see a lot of crimes associated with human trafficking. For example homicides, batteries, domestic violence offenses,” Ojdana said. “Milwaukee is definitely a hub for sex trafficking. It’s easy access. Highways connect you to all the other states. We see a lot of people coming from Green Bay and Appleton. We see victims from Chicago and Minnesota.”

MPD, the Milwaukee U.S. Attorney’s Office and community advocates all told WISN 12 the pandemic has likely made sex trafficking of children worse.

Predators know teens are online all day and target minors on the same social media apps their peers use.

“It’s Snapchat, it’s Tagged, it’s Kik, it’s Facebook, it’s Instagram,” Ojdana said. “OnlyFans is included as well.”

Officials in the U.S. Attorney’s Office told WISN 12 predators target vulnerable kids and that a single predator often times sends messages out to a hundred different minors a day, saying anything to get their attention.

Since shelters and outreach programs temporarily closed during the pandemic, community
advocates said more under-supported teens likely fell into those traps.

Read the full story by Caroline Reinwald on WISN.

Carnegie Mellon University Researchers Develop Algorithm To Identify Human Trafficking Patterns

May 27, 2021

SUMMER HILL, Pa. — In most crimes, the hardest part is finding the person responsible. For human trafficking, just finding the victims can be a challenge.

That’s where data researchers at Carnegie Mellon University hope to help.

“It’s just so validating to know that you’re working on something that could really touch people’s lives,” said Ph.D. student Catalina Vajiac, who’s working on the project.

Researchers developed an algorithm that combs through online escort ads searching for patterns. Vajiac explained that it can be used to identify people being trafficked against their will.

“They’re going to use almost the same advertisement and change the information per victim,” Vajiac stated. “That’s really the insight between analyzing text and finding ads that look similar but they’re using different people.”

That could be incredibly useful for those tasked with finding the traffickers. FBI supervisory special agent Tim Wolford wouldn’t comment directly on techniques the agency uses to fight human trafficking. However, he didn’t shy away from the impact algorithms like this could have.

“It could really be used in helping us identify other victims and help us connecting some of those dots to find out who the traffickers are as well,” agent Wolford said.

Watch the news story by Aaron Martin on WPXI

Wisconsin Woman Uses Unique Platform To Fight Human Trafficking

May 9, 2021

SUSSEX, Wis. – A local woman is using her platform as a business owner to raise awareness about an issue that isn’t always talked about, but is happening in our own backyard: human trafficking.

It’s not so much the product the Waukesha County woman creates, but the message on it that could save lives. Even more important is where they’re being placed.

Inside Sussex Injection Molding, a life-saving number is being printed on what typically might be overlooked.

“Now is a time for everyone to kind of take action and elevate their voice,” said Ann Riphenburg, founder and owner of reCollect2 Company. “It was important for us to say, ‘OK, how can we come alongside our customers in the industry and continue this momentum?'”

Inside Sussex Injection Molding, a life-saving number is being printed on what typically might be overlooked.

“Now is a time for everyone to kind of take action and elevate their voice,” said Ann Riphenburg, founder and owner of reCollect2 Company. “It was important for us to say, ‘OK, how can we come alongside our customers in the industry and continue this momentum?'”

Read the full story bt Kasey Chronis on Fox 6 Milwaukee.

Sister Eugenia Bonetti on Human Trafficking Victims: Nobody Does This By Choice

April 25, 2021

ROME — Coronavirus lockdowns have not led to a reduction in human trafficking, which primarily affects women and girls, but actually increased it over the past year, according to Consolata Sister Eugenia Bonetti.

“The different types of exploitation have changed, becoming more violent and, in the case of sexual exploitation, more hidden,” she says. “They have moved, in fact, from the streets to apartments or online sites.”

For over two decades, Sister Eugenia has served on the frontline of the Church’s efforts to combat human trafficking of women and girls — a ministry that began in 1993 when, as a missionary in Africa, she first saw women on roadsides waiting for clients.

Since 2012, the Italian sister has headed “Slaves No More,” a Rome-based association extending to 30 different countries and dedicated to fighting the scourge, which affects 27 million victims worldwide. The organization has collaborated extensively with the U.S. embassy to the Holy See during both Republican and Democratic administrations.

In this March 30 interview with the Register, Sister Eugenia explains more about her work to restore the dignity of trafficked women and girls, what the faithful can do to raise awareness of these acts of violence, degradation and exploitation against them, and how her conviction that we are one human family under Christ is central to her work.

Sister Eugenia, who are most liable to become victims of such modern slavery? How do they end up in this situation, and do they include minors?

The categories of people most at risk of becoming victims of human trafficking are undoubtedly women and young women and children.

Read the full story by Edward Petin at National Catholic Register.

Georgia Students Develop Device To Fight Human Trafficking

April 22, 2021

TUCKER, Ga. – Human trafficking has become a major problem around the world, but students at one Georgia middle school are developing a plan to help combat the issue.

Tucker Middle School was named a semifinalist in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest, which encourages students to solve real-world issues using STEM.

“STEM is science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. It’s more than that, it’s facilitated learning. Kids are challenged to create solutions to problems,” eighth-grade STEM instructor Nathan Williams said.

Williams says one of his students came up with the idea, but each of them helped put the plan together to make it a success.

“Seeing all the people on social media talk about their experiences with sexual assault and human trafficking, it made me realize this situation needs more attention than it’s getting,” student Kayla Armstrong said. “I wanted to bring more attention to this problem in our community.”

Read the full story on Fox 5 Atlanta.

Expert: Conspiracy Theories Make It Harder To Fight Real Sex Trafficking

March 7, 2021

QAnon and other sex traffic conspiracy theories on social media have made it more difficult to do legitimate work for those working to support victims, according to an expert on Wednesday night.

Shea M. Rhodes, the director and co-founder of the Villanova Law Institute to Address Commercial and Sexual Exploitation, was a special guest speaker for the Transitions of PA’s Human Trafficking Awareness Night via Zoom on Wednesday. The live discussion on dangerous narratives coincided with January being Human Trafficking Awareness Night.

“It has become incredibly dangerous,” said Rhodes. “Human trafficking has taken center stage over the past few months. We started noticing an uptick in July on social media. It’s quite upsetting and completely wrong. Misinformation is rampant on social media, the internet and even news networks. It’s important we debunk this information so people can understand the reality and the harm that is caused by false narratives.”

QAnon, whose followers recently made headlines by taking part in a siege of the Capitol on Jan. 6, is a far-right conspiracy theory group that falsely believes the government is secretly controlled by a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophile cannibals. Rhodes said QAnon has politicized a historically bi-partisan issue.

The #SaveTheChildren movement makes it increasingly difficult to discern who truly cares about child exploitation and who is interested in spreading falsities. It diverts time and resources from legitimate anti-trafficking groups, and QAnon encourages followers to pursue acts of vigilante justice, said Rhodes.

“We are spending a huge amount of time answering people putting things on our social media,” she said. “Our time, our resources are completely hijacked.”

Read the full article by Justin Strawser on The Daily Item.