Responding to the Misuse of Technology while Harnessing its Potential to Combat Human Trafficking

Event Date: 
Wednesday, July 10, 2019
Geneva and New York

Responding to the Misuse of Technology while Harnessing its Potential to Combat Human Trafficking

The internet is misused by traffickers to recruit, advertise and exploit victims. With the internet, a victim may never leave his or her home and their exploitation can be streamed live and directed at global markets. Apps and chat rooms can be misused to exploit and abuse young people, often young girls, who are deceived into sham marriages or blackmailed into sexual exploitation. Investigating and prosecuting technology-facilitated trafficking is challenging given that such crime and evidence may span multiple jurisdictions.

However, technology can increase the capacity of anti-trafficking responses beyond traditional human resources. Applications on data aggregation analysis, facial recognition, blockchain and artificial intelligence can help responders identify victims, improve investigations and prosecutions, facilitate access to services for victims, and enhance prevention efforts.

Considering the expanding role of technology in trafficking in persons and the need for multi-pronged efforts, the Inter-Agency Coordination Group against Trafficking in Persons (ICAT) has thus promoted a dialogue across countries and practitioners to develop stronger responses to address the misuse of technology in facilitating trafficking in persons, but also to harness its useful potential to counter this crime.

On 10 July, in the margins of the 41st Human Rights Council at the United Nations Office in Geneva, ICAT-based agencies, together with the Geneva-based Group of Friends United Against Human Trafficking, highlighted trends, challenges and opportunities deriving from the intersections of technology and trafficking with the aim of kickstarting a policy discussion on how to harness the power of technology and of public-private partnerships.

Panellists, including Ambassador Ambrazevich of Belarus, and representatives of UNODC, OSCE, UN Women, outlined ICAT’s efforts to address persistent and emerging trends in trafficking in persons, and presented ICAT’s forthcoming issue brief on combating the crime in the digital age.

On 16 July in New York, in the margins of the UN High-Level Political Forum on the Sustainable Development Goals, ICAT, in partnership with the Group of Friends United against Human Trafficking and International Telecommunication Union (ITU), convened a thematic event attended by over 80 participants, which focused in particular on positive contributions technology can make to global efforts to eradicate human trafficking.

As was outlined by speakers, despite an increased focus of the international community on human trafficking, prevention, identification and prosecution mechanisms are still inadequate in many countries. Women and girls remain disproportionately affected by this crime representing 72% of detected victims globally and 94% of detected victims of sexual exploitation, which remains the most detected form of trafficking.

Technology offers significant potential to strengthen concerted efforts against human trafficking around the world. However, it is essential that national and international actors understand how it can be used most effectively to combat human trafficking and to reach the most vulnerable.

Melanie Thompson, a human trafficking survivor and activist, explained how traffickers exploit people multiple times through online ads, providing her personal experience as a former victim of this crime. She urged stakeholders to increase survivors’ engagement in any discussions on trafficking and prostitution, noting how their personal experience assists in developing an understanding of how harmful trafficking is. Similarly, NGO Equality Now played a powerful short clip from the 2019 movie “Saving Zoë” by Jeffrey Hunt, which shows some of the ways in which traffickers use technological tools for exploitative purposes.

ICAT is a policy forum mandated by the UN General Assembly which brings together 23 organizations and partners across the UN system and other relevant international and regional organizations with one single voice. It is dedicated to promoting coordinated responses against persistent and emerging forms of trafficking to prevent the crime, protect its victims and hold perpetrators accountable.

An ICAT Issue Brief on the intersections of technology and trafficking, containing joint policy recommendations for governments and relevant stakeholders will be officially launched on World Day Against Trafficking in Persons on 30 July.

Further information:

Video of New York thematic panel