WSBT22: Berrien County Hotels Join Fight Against Human Trafficking

WSBT22: Berrien County Hotels Join Fight Against Human Trafficking

Hotel owners are hoping to send a clear message to human traffickers– they are not welcome in Berrien County.

The Southwestern Michigan Human Trafficking task force is the first group in the county to get an entire county involved in the project.

By downloading the free app ‘Traffickcam’ you can help.

These hotels are already doing their part by photographing their rooms with the app.

“We basically took Traffickcam the app and put it on steroids. We just took it from one hotel to the entire county,” said Cathy Knauf with the Southwestern Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force.

Traffickers often post pictures of their victims posing in hotel rooms for online ads. By using the app, the images are sent directly to the FBI’s server.

It creates a database that investigators can go to find other images that were taken in the same location.

“It’s helping out the FBI and law enforcement and if they’re looking for a victim/survivor this will help them in their search and rescue, and the second one is to help tourism feel as safe as possible,” said Knauf.

Anne Vonk with the Hilton Garden Inn in Benton Harbor says human trafficking isn’t a problem they’ve had to deal but it’s a definite possibility.

“When you think about the problem and what happens its really abhorrent. Just knowing that we can be a part of the solution we didn’t even give it a second thought,” said Vonk.

Not only are hotel managers ensuring that there’s photographic evidence to stop criminals– but also that staff have the training they need to identify the signs of human trafficking.

“We’re going to take any necessary step possible so we can keep that out of our community and make this a family friendly hotel,” said Holiday Inn Express General Manager, Kyle Reilly.

The Traffickcam app is for everyone. It’s something you can download and take pictures of your room while on vacation.

More than 2 million pictures from hotels across the country have been downloaded to the FBI’s database.

The Southwest Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force says it plans to branch out to more hotels in other counties in the future.


Uniglobe: Our Favorite Travel Apps

posted 2017-07-03


We’ll admit that we love a personal touch when it comes to travel (it is what sets UTD apart), but that definitely doesn’t mean that we don’t also embrace technology! We’re always interested in the newest tech that’s designed to make travel even simpler, especially the ever-evolving catalogue of apps. Here are a few of our favorites:


WiFi Magic

There are more than a few WiFi finders on the market. For going to public businesses in larger cities there’s WiFi Magic. Think of this as a community that shares WiFi passwords. This is especially great if you don’t speak the language well enough to ask the business for access.

Speedspot Wifi

We also like Speedspot WiFi Finder with Offline Maps, available on Apple and Android. It allows the user to not only locate the nearest free WiFi, but will also tell you which is running at the fastest speed. As an added bonus, you can download a city map and still be able to access it even if you find yourself without internet, something that can be a real lifesaver in a strange city!




Flight View

There aren’t quite as many flight tracking apps as there are planes in the sky, but there’s definitely no shortage to sift through. Our personal favorite is Flight View. It lets you track the plane, view previous flights to see where it’s coming from, and will give you more up-to-date information about the plane’s location and status than you can often get at the gate.


This newer app has made big waves with its simple and creative way to combat the epidemic of human trafficking. Simply submit a picture of your hotel room the next time you’re on the road and you could be saving a life.



Food and travel go hand in hand, and thanks to the abundant reviews on forums like Yelp and famed guide-turned-app Zagat, it’s easier than ever to find a great place in moments. We really like Foodspotting, which focuses on particular dishes that users loved instead of just the restaurant itself (and with a really positive, food loving attitude!). So the next time you’re traveling and are craving a perfect steak or an authentic paella, check this app out.




Roaming Hunger

Or if you just want to grab a bite to go, download Roaming Hunger to find the best food trucks currently in your area.

Google Translate

Even the most worldly among us will still need a little help with translation from time to time, and luckily now that just means opening up an app. There are definitely some great translators out there, each with their own specialty, but pretty much none beat Google Translate.

It’s now equipped to translate more than 100 languages, and more than 50 off-line, whether by voice, text, or image. It’s especially handy for snapping a picture of menus and street signs for an instant translation.





If you find yourself traveling for business more than leisure then chances are you’ve found yourself juggling countless business cards each year. This app allows you to quickly scan in the card and will save and organize the information, while linking you to their professional information. We especially love this for anyone who ends up going to multiple conferences and conventions each year.


UNIGLOBE Travel Companion

The UNIGLOBE Travel Companion app lets you follow along with your itinerary in real time and keeps you up-to-date with mobile check in and travel news. Plus it provides activity ideas as well as cultural guidelines for your new destination.

And best of all, it allows for access to your personal travel expert and our 24/7 Rescue line at the touch of a button. This is definitely a must have for any UTD client.
What are your favorite apps that help you travel better? Let us know in the comments!


The Herald-Palladium: Sex trafficking happens here too, FBI agent says

Posted: Thursday, June 22, 2017 6:00 am

BENTON TOWNSHIP — Sex trafficking happens everywhere, FBI special agent Timothy Simon told more than 50 people Wednesday at Southwest Michigan ALPACT’s forum on Sex Trafficking, Human Trafficking, Child Exploitation and the Common Clues.

“I run into law enforcement contacts all the time who say, ‘It doesn’t happen here. We’re in west Michigan. This is somehow some better place where this doesn’t happen,’” he said.

But, he said that’s not the case.

“It happens in our back yard,” said Simon, who has been with the FBI for 12 years and has focused on Grand Rapids-based sex trafficking for four years. “It happens around us.”

He talked about several cases in the Grand Rapids area.

“I think we don’t truly, truly know how big it is,” he said. “We don’t know how many girls are right now being trafficked on the streets. … But, it’s happening here, and it’s happening too much.”

Part of the problem is most victims don’t see themselves as victims. And he said once law enforcement gets them out of the life, they often go back to it.

He said most victims he has dealt with were coerced into becoming prostitutes. He said most of them were underage females who have run away from a possibly abusive home and found a guy who promised them a better life.

“We’re talking about kids,” he said. “We’re talking about people who are vulnerable, people that don’t have a lot of things that help them see the world clearly.”

He said the guy will often offer the girl a place to stay and will gradually introduce her to prostitution.

Simon said it’s very rare for victims to be snatched off the street by a stranger.

He said the FBI works with federal laws, which often have harsher sentences than state laws but can be tougher to prove if the victim is over 18. Under federal law, he said a person can be found guilty of sex trafficking an adult only if it is shown force was used.

He said a person can be found guilty under federal law of sex trafficking a minor even if force is not used.

He said people can help stop sex trafficking by becoming aware of the signs. He said physical signs include the victim having no identification or the ID is held by another person, the victim looking young but dressed provocatively or there being multiple cell phones.

Behavioral indicators include the victim letting other people talk for her or displaying over-sexualized behavior.

“There’s no easy solution,” he said. “It’s not something that’s going to go away quickly.”

Simon said a lot of sex traffickers use to advertise their victims.

Cathy Knauf, founder of the Southwest Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force, said people can help stop trafficking by using the TraffickCam app to take photos of the hotel rooms they stay in. She said this helps the FBI to find victims when photos of them are placed on the internet to find customers.

She said most of the hotels in Berrien County have already uploaded photos from their rooms because of the support she has received from the Southwestern Michigan Tourist Council.

“What we’re saying to the traffickers and the pimps, ‘Don’t come to our hotels and take pictures and put them on BackPage,’” she said. “Because all these pictures are downloaded to law enforcement and the FBI. It downloads right to their servers. It sends a big message to the traffickers to just bypass our county.”

To report human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

ALPACT stands for Advocates and Leaders for Police and Community Trust.


Washington Univ Engineering: Students Find Opportunities for learning & giving back around St. Louis

Washington Univ Engineering: Students Find Opportunities for learning & giving back around St. Louis

Beyond the ‘Bubble’

Photo by Whitney Curtis. Written by Beth Miller

 While most students in the School of Engineering & Applied Science come from outside of the St. Louis area, becoming a part of the community through student groups, class projects, field trips and personal interests is high on their priority lists.

Here we highlight several Engineering students, from undergraduate to doctoral students, who are using what they are learning in the Engineering classrooms and laboratories to make their marks in St. Louis. These experiences have not only benefited the people, organizations and businesses they work with, but enriched the students’ lives as well.

In 2013, St. Louis native Abby Stylianou used her skills in computer vision to help the St. Louis community in a more unusual and unique way than she had while a student in the St. Louis Public Schools or as a WashU undergraduate. Stylianou, who earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies in 2012, helped the St. Louis Police Department and the city’s medical examiner locate the grave of an unidentified young girl who had been found murdered in 1983. The case has been unsolved and was moved to the “cold case” files until the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote an article about volunteer efforts to find the young girl’s grave in the Washington Park Cemetery in north St. Louis County. Unfortunately, the cemetery had suffered from years of neglect and overgrowth, and some headstones had been damaged or moved, making the task an extraordinary challenge.

“I’ve always been interested in the intersection of technology and social justice and am excited to see how much research can be helpful to the community. When the grave case came up, it was an exciting opportunity to help out.”

— Abby Stylianou

Stylianou, who was then working as research staff in the lab of Robert Pless, then professor of computer science, used a tool the lab created called, which uses computer vision and algorithms to compare the locations of objects in photos of the grave site from 1983 to current satellite images to find the location where the grave was likely located. The day of the exhumation, Stylianou’s calculations were only 8 inches off from where the remains were found. Since then, the remains have been reburied in the Garden of Innocents at Calvary Cemetery while detectives continue to work on the case and identify the young girl.

“It was an amazing thing to be a part of, but it’s bittersweet,” she said. “We really want to know who she is and to be able to find her killer, and while that’s not solved yet, it’s nice to know they are making progress toward that, and she now has a better resting place.”

Since then, Stylianou has been working on another computer-vision-related project that has a worldwide impact. She and Pless have worked with a St. Louis entity, the Exchange Initiative, to develop an app, called TraffickCam, that allows anyone to upload a photo of their hotel room into a database that law enforcement officials can use to determine where victims are being trafficked.

“It’s very challenging,” Stylianou says. “To do this at a national scale requires new research into how to do image-based search efficiently and accurately.”

The technology behind TraffickCam is the body of Stylianou’s doctoral research.

Quincy Marting and Daozhou Liu talk with Niraj Patel, an engineer with the City of St. Louis Water Division at the Chain of Rocks Water Treatment Plant. Photo by Whitney Curtis. Click here or on the photo for a slideshow.

Master’s students Quincy Marting and Daozhou Liu are getting involved in St. Louis by working on a basic human need — clean drinking water. Marting, who is from Hawaii, and Liu, a native of China, are doing an independent study project with Ray Ehrhard, senior research associate in energy, environmental & chemical engineering, and the City of St. Louis Water Division at the Chain of Rocks Water Treatment Plant in north St. Louis. Opened in 1894, the plant is the largest treatment facility in St. Louis and is capable of pumping 450 million gallons of water a day.

The team is analyzing data from the water that comes in and is doing an energy audit to determine utility rates, how much water has been pumped and how much energy is being used and where. They will present the data to the plant’s engineers to determine how the plant can optimize its process to save money and energy. In addition, they are calculating what size of a backup generator the plant needs in case of a power failure.

Marting, who earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from WashU in 2016 and played on the football team, saw the project as a way to apply what he has learned as well as to give back to the community.

“I’ve been in St. Louis for four years, and I want to be able to do something for the city,” he said. “By doing this, I feel more a part of the city.” Marting, who is earning a master’s in mechanical engineering, said the project has taught him why St. Louis’ drinking water is often ranked as the best-tasting city water in the country.

“A lot of treatment plants will take out all of the minerals, but water tastes good because of its mineral content,” he said.

“There’s something special about the Missouri River water, and when the Missouri and the Mississippi meet at the Confluence, it brings those minerals in the two rivers together. They can keep a lot of minerals in the water because there are so many.”

— Quincy Marting

Liu, who is in his first year in the U.S. and is earning a master’s in energy, environmental & chemical engineering, said the project is teaching him how to solve problems.

“A project is a big challenge sometimes,” he said. “We should know how to start it and what the process will be, as well as how to express yourself and share what you found with the engineers.”

Clockwise from left: Carlos Gonzalez, Dawn Manske, Andrew McNeel, David Lie-Tjauw

Student group Engineering Test Kitchen was designed in 2013 to connect WashU Engineering students with businesses and organizations in St. Louis that needed help with a project but did not have staff to complete it. Last fall, a group of Engineering students worked with Made For Freedom, a local for-profit social enterprise founded by Dawn Manske that offers clothes, jewelry, bags and other products made by human trafficking survivors. The company offers jobs to women who are victims of and at-risk for human trafficking, and to date has provided more than 9,000 hours of employment for these women worldwide.

Carlos Gonzalez, a dual-degree student earning a bachelor’s in computer science, led a team of four students, including Andrew McNeel, a sophomore majoring in computer science with a second major in economics & strategy, and David Lie-Tjauw, a freshman majoring in computer science with a second major in financial engineering, to boost Made for Freedom’s search-engine optimization.

Gonzalez, a native of Mexico who earned his first bachelor’s degree in physics from the College of Wooster in Ohio, said the project appealed to him for several reasons.

“Part of it was the experience to get to apply things I’ve learned in class on a real-world project,” he said. “Also because it benefited the local community in a very direct way and solved a lot of problems they were having. Considering that Dawn’s project is entirely online, it has a very big impact.

“I would definitely like to work with other local companies and help them in one way or another. That’s what we should be doing — improving our communities.”

— Carlos Gonzalez

“Without ETK I wouldn’t have been able to make the connections I have and meet these people,” said Lie-Tjauw, who has both a Langsdorf Fellowship and a McKelvey Undergraduate Research Award. “I’m really thankful to the university and the donors for making my presence here possible. I’ve really been able to focus on ETK, doing incredible things and learning more about myself.”

Sean Fallon, right, who is majoring in chemical engineering with a second major in economics and strategy, was part of a student team that worked with Jenny Wendt, project manager for the City of University City, to implement the city’s Climate Action Plan.

Sean Fallon, a junior from Cincinnati, has taken advantage of numerous opportunities to get involved in the St. Louis community in his few years at WashU. From working on experiential learning projects with Engineering and the Olin Business School, to serving as a renewable energy intern with the university’s Office of Sustainability, Fallon’s out-of-the-classroom learning has spanned a number of fields.

Through the Sustainability Exchange practicum course in Engineering last fall, Fallon’s team, which included Quincy Marting, worked to implement University City’s Climate Action Plan and to reduce municipal greenhouse gas emissions. This included developing strategies to retrofit city streetlights with LED bulbs; to install solar panels on several city buildings, and to conduct a lighting audit for the Heman Park Community Center. These plans will not only help University City achieve its goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020, but also to generate significant savings from reduced energy costs, Fallon said.

Through Olin Business School’s Center for Experiential Learning (CEL), Fallon worked with the St. Patrick Center in St. Louis and helped with market research and a marketing strategy to bring in more donors and volunteers dedicated to ending homelessness. Additionally, Fallon took part in the CEL Practicum and worked with NVP Energy, a wastewater treatment company based in Galway, Ireland, for which Fallon helped design and implement a U.S. market entry strategy and traveled to Ireland to present his findings to NVP’s senior management.

“A practicum course is a great way to make a tangible impact in the lives of others, through the real-world application of skills we learn in class —no matter how varied those skills may be,” Fallon said. “It’s a really good way to give back to, and become more connected with, the surrounding community.”

Forbes: Human Trafficking Is In Plain Sight. Are You Supporting It Without Knowing?

Forbes: Human Trafficking Is In Plain Sight. Are You Supporting It Without Knowing?

Human trafficking is a growing epidemic. In addition to the estimated 21.3 million refugees around the world, there are also an estimated 45.8 million people who are currently being trafficked or enslaved. But enslavement is not what we in America often think it is. Those suffering unthinkable psychological, physical and social trauma are part of a global problem that we, as Americans, see, touch and support every day without knowing it. “The general public does not have a real awareness of the magnitude of the problem,” says Barry Koch, a former assistant district attorney in New York County, now with his own consulting firm. “Whether it’s labor trafficking or sex trafficking, the number of victims is staggering, yet many of them remain hidden in plain sight. After drug dealing, trafficking of humans is tied with arms dealing as the second largest criminal industry in the world, and is the fastest growing. Raising public awareness is an important element in the fight against human trafficking.”

It’s Not Someone Else’s Neighborhood

Trafficking happens 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in every zip code. The U.S. State Department explains, “The old way of slavery was that the boss really owned you… But now legal recruiters and employers work in tandem to deceive workers who, vulnerable and isolated in a strange culture, are forced to accept harsh terms. It is in that context that you have endemic forced labor today.” Meaning that those trafficked are in all sectors, and represent all races, religions, cultures, ages and genders. Modern day slavery is right in front of us all the time.

According to Dr. Annalisa Enrile, clinical associate professor, USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, “When we talk about trafficking, most people assume we are just talking about sex. But there are actually more people enslaved through labor trafficking. Millions more. Impoverished communities, migrant workers and children are all at risk for indentured servitude, forced labor and other forms of labor trafficking.”

Women and children are also exploited for labor, not just sex. And here in the U.S., they are often manipulated into forms of slavery despite being legal workers. The Urban Institute claimed in their 2014 report, Hidden in Plain Sight, 71% of the labor trafficking victims in the study entered the United States on lawful visas. While labor trafficking takes many forms, it is primarily located in the following industries: agriculture, fisheries/fishing, construction, factory work and domestic service. This often goes unnoticed because those most vulnerable are largely migrant workers isolated from others and lacking documentation. This further means that those being trafficked have almost no access to healthcare.

Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai, speaks to reporters during news conference at the Foreign Ministry in Bangkok, Thailand, July 1, 2016 after the United States lifted Thailand off its human trafficking blacklist. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

The Cost of Life–Follow The Money

Trafficking and exploitation of people costs lives, but earns a lot of money–for individuals, organizations and governments. And not just overseas in countries like the Philippines, Brazil and Thailand, but here in the United States. According to the Financial Action Task Force 2011 Report, the estimated annual profit per woman in forced sexual servitude was $100,000, and the estimated annual profit per trafficked child was $207,000.

In farming communities, and similar trades, being targeted by traffickers is nothing new. A San Diego State University study found that in San Diego County, 31% of undocumented, Spanish-speaking migrant workers had experienced labor trafficking. The money to be made is so great that legal workers’ documentation goes missing regularly. Human Rights First estimates that $9 billion in profits are made through agriculture–including forestry and fishing–with no slowing of demand in sight. To combat this, Blue Numbers has created a global platform where individuals can voluntarily register themselves for self-identification using documentation and facial recognition.

Unfortunately, money may be the seed of the problem, but it is only part of the problem. Kate Kennedy, managing director of the Freedom Fund, explains, “The reasons for human trafficking are complicated. Three of the main factors include 1) the economic demand for extremely cheap labor, 2) lack of individual liberty or marginalization and 3) weak rule of law.” And until those are addressed, we will not see improvement.

While there are no silver bullets to solving the worldwide trafficking problem, a globalizing world, government accountability and new technology have experts in the field optimistic. Technology, for example, has reached a point were an app like TraffickCam can use hotel room recognition, in hopes of finding where those being trafficked are working. Another site, LaborVoices, provides real-time crowdsourcing of factory sites so workers can report conditions.

In construction, contractors can develop various technologies while also ensuring their relationships with legal entities creates social impact. According to Mr. Koch, “We can make a difference in the fight against labor trafficking and labor exploitation by passing laws (and monitoring for compliance) that regulate supply chains. Consumers can refuse to purchase goods from retailers who use trafficked labor or child labor in their supply chains. Institutional investors can divest their positions in such companies.”

Legislation is also being crafted throughout the country to fight human trafficking, but thus far has done little the curb the problem that goes beyond verbal calls for human rights. In California, the Transparency in Supply Chains Act (TISC) forces businesses who work with suppliers or subcontractors that violate anti-trafficking laws to disclose violations and discontinue the contract. But those minimal efforts are not well enforced nor replicated in other states. Defining infrastructure comes from U.S. Government Procurement policies. But that has also been slow to implement. However, states and other countries are beginning to learn from emerging examples. For instance, the U.K. Modern Slavery Act of 2015 “has been a powerful antidote to end modern slavery,” claims Kate Kennedy. “The Act requires organizations with a turnover of more than £36 million operating in the UK to publish an annual ‘slavery and human trafficking statement’, setting out what they’re doing to address this form of extreme exploitation in their supply chains and business operations.”

Individual companies can help further legislative action. For example, CMiC, a computer software company based in Canada, can develop technology to help current government procurement policies hold contractors accountable. Oliver Ritchie, vice president of product strategy at CMiC, contends, “We should be able to insure that every dollar that the government spends on a project be slave-free. Legislation gives us a way to do this through transparency and compliance. Our product technology provides the opportunity for true implementation.”

In this photo taken Feb. 27, 2017, a law-enforcement guide to human trafficking sits on a table at the Genesis Project, a drop-in center for victims of sex trafficking in SeaTac, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

But partnerships are also vitally important in the anti-trafficking space. The Freedom Fund, a philanthropy focused on strategic planning and financing, has supported almost 100 partners around the world doing grassroots work to fight modern slavery. Their mission is to identify and invest in the best efforts that allow local entities to thrive. This is because the best efforts are often by those who know the local culture the best. Further, academic research, capital funding, NGOs and nonprofit efforts and media awareness all have to come together to work collectively and educate the public.

Policymakers also have to take greater action–both in understanding the problem and in crafting legislative solutions. “Our collective hope,” says Dr. Enrile, “is to increase collaboration and to work in parallel on the crucial areas of legislation, awareness, research and interventions. Our commitment as a school of social work is to be a convener of thought leaders in the anti-trafficking movement to make meaningful collaboration possible.” There are thousands of people doing work to stop trafficking. But we need that number to be in the millions. We, collectively, need to do better. Millions of lives are at stake.



Travel Pulse: Report Sheds Light on Exploitation Victims Within Hotel Sector

Report Sheds Light on Exploitation Victims Within Hotel Sector

Read article here:

KARE-TV Minneapolis: New phone app aims to help sex trafficking victims

KARE-TV Minneapolis: New phone app aims to help sex trafficking victims

MINNEAPOLIS – For years now, KARE 11 has been documenting the issue of sex trafficking.

It’s usually the officers and the advocates who are working to rescue victims. But thanks to technology, the general public can help now too.

“Citizens across the U.S. can take action by simply taking photos of their hotel rooms,” said Kimberly Ritter.

She works for the company that developed the latest app called TraffickCam.

It allows people to take pictures of a hotel room and then upload it to a massive database.  Investigators can then compare those pictures to online ads of victims posing in hotel rooms in hopes of finding them, she said.

“Through something similar to digital recognition the hotel will be able to recognize data points and pull the most probable hotel room that victim is in,” she said.

She said so far people have posted thousands of pictures to the app. The law enforcement application is still in the testing phase, but it should be fully operational over the next several months.

“It sounds like something that could be effective,” said Alex Khu, special agent in charge with Homeland Security Investigations.

When KARE 11 spoke to him in several weeks ago, he had not tested the app himself, but he is hopeful.

“It’s a fantastic idea,” he said.

Some advocates in the Twin Cities told KARE 11 they are skeptical the app could work, but Anastasia Kramlinger at YouthLink believes it is a good step.

“The fact that the community as a whole is acknowledging trafficking in our community is problem in our state and in our communities is helpful,” she said.

© 2017 KARE-TV

7 Amazing Initiatives That Fight Sex Trafficking

The key to identification is education.

The International Labour Organisation currently estimates that almost 21 million people are victims of forced labour; 11.4 million women and girls; 4.5 million subjected to forced sexual exploitation.Alaskan Airlines flight attendant Sheila Fredrick, said had an instinctual reaction the moment she saw a young women; visibly distressed, unkempt and sitting beside a man of finer stature. She went on to correctly report and prevent this incidence of sex trafficking from progressing; alerting the pilot and calling police to the arrival terminal.

Many like Sheila are in a position every day to recognise and report cases of sex trafficking across borders and oceans, which is exactly why former flight attendant, Nancy Rivard founded Airline Ambassadors, a specialised training initiative for flight staff to recognise and report on incidents. These organisations can make an enormous impact.

Here are just few examples of passionate people realising innovative and intuitive ways to stop sex trafficking in its tracks:

Airline Ambassadors International
AAI is a not-for-profit organisation functioning under three main precedents; providing humanitarian aid to victims, protecting children via a Medical Escort Program and educating people through their training series.

Initially focusing on airline personnel, the initiative has grown to include networks of students, medical professionals, families and retirees who provide a range of post-identification care and prevention support to victims. At its core, AAI provides training to airline staff, including in-flight and ground staff on how to identify victims.

Outland Denim
This Australian-based start-up is a brand built on the ethos that empowering women within communities that are affected by the trafficking trade can be a catalyst for change. To help put this idea into action, the company specifically employs young women rescued from or affected by human slavery and sexual exploitation to make its premium quality denim. The effects are two-pronged: firstly, women who have previously fallen victim to the sex trade are given an opportunity to thrive again on their own terms in a supportive environment, and secondly, other women in the community avoid falling victim to the trade thanks to the creation of viable employment opportunities.

This clever app puts the average citizen on the front line of combating the sex trafficking trade. The app asks people to submit photos of the interiors of their hotel rooms, wherever they may be in the world, creating a helpful database of snaps to compare with those that pimps post online. Early testing proved that the app is 85 percent accurate in identifying hotels and now, the database has swelled to a collection of over 1.5 million snaps.

Stop The Traffik
Officially an independent charity in 2008, Stop The Traffik was inspired by one man’s experience with the sale and consequent disappearance of a young brother and sister from a family he had come to know in Mumbai, India.

Challenged by the thought that these children were likely illegally sold into sexual exploitation and trade, UK national Phil Lane started Stop The Traffik as a community led initiative to put a stop to the abhorrent crime of human trafficking for the sex trade.

A global pioneer in their work, STT has previously had successful appeal partnerships with the Financial Times, successfully forged the Global Blanket Campaign to #makefashiontraffikfree and developed the Stop The Traffik App – a reporting app that allows users to learn identifiers and provide street-level data in order to allow STT to develop intelligence led initiatives to protect vulnerable peoples.

In addition, with the help of donations, the STT team are working toward making supply chain transparency a legal requirement globally as well as looking to a network of pro bono business experts for awareness raising and resource develop within companies in order to avoid all types of human trafficking.

Live Your Dream
An online activist and volunteer network, Live Your Dream focuses on stepping in before trafficking can occur. Understanding that education is the key to living a life free from violence, LYD invests over $1 million each year to provide education grants for young women.

Creating women who are able to be assets, not burdens to their families, LYD ensures that young women are given guidance and advice on training and career development for the future. LYD dreams of a world where women and girls “have the resources and opportunities they need to reach their full potential, live free from violence and of course, live their dreams.” Through social and economic empowerment, LYD has been able to spare indigenous women from Canada, children from poor neighbourhoods in Mexico, working children in Bolivia; and many more from facing a life of exploitation and trafficking.

CNN Features TraffickCam: Your hotel room photos could help catch sex traffickers

By Katy Scott, CNN

(CNN) A young girl poses provocatively in a dark hotel room. For a set fee, any willing customer can pay to have sex with her.

For investigators attempting to track down sex traffickers and their victims, these online advertisements can contain critical clues.

The smallest of details in a room could give away its location, but there are too many ads for law enforcement to scan each of them for clues.

That’s where TraffickCam comes in. It’s a simple phone app that uses crowdsourced snapshots of hotel rooms to help law enforcement locate victims and prosecute sex traffickers.

Any travelers pit stopping at a hotel can turn on their phone’s GPS location and upload photos of the room from four different angles to TraffickCam’s database.

The idea is that law enforcement agencies can then check adverts featuring suspected trafficking victims in hotel rooms against TraffickCam’s database of photos.

TraffickCam’s image analysis tools transform the photos into a number of data points, using features such as patterns on the carpet, paintings on the wall and landmarks out of the window. The various data points in the photos play an important role in matching the location.

TraffickCam is the brainchild of Exchange Initiative and a team of researchers at Washington University. Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph provided a $100,000 matching grant to begin development of the app, and private donations are made through the non-profit St. Louis Community Foundation.

“This is an easy way for citizens to take a stand against sex trafficking by simply taking photos,” Kimberly Ritter, director for development for Exchange Initiative, tells CNN.

Since launching in June 2016, Ritter says that more than 150,000 hotels have been added to the TraffickCam database.

“We have over 100,000 people using the app right now, and we’re hoping that more will join us to take action and fight this fight,” she says.

Global Sisters Report: Q & A with Kimberly Ritter, fighting human trafficking with a smartphone app

Kimberly Ritter is the senior account manager specializing in large event planning at Nix Conference & Meeting Management in St. Louis. She also spearheads the company’s corporate social responsibility trafficking initiative.

Ritter is the director for development for Exchange Initiative, a social action organization that Nix formed in 2013 to educate, empower and engage individuals and organizations to put an end to sex trafficking, a form of modern slavery that forces children and adults to engage in commercial sex acts against their will.

Along with other awards, Ritter received the FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award in 2012 and was chosen as one of Successful Meetings magazine’s 25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry in 2012.

Kimberly Ritter, senior account manager specializing in large event planning at Nix Conference & Meeting Management (Courtesy of Exchange Initiative)

She credits her relationships with Catholic sisters as key in educating her on “the atrocity of human trafficking” and igniting her “passion for social justice.”

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and Wednesday, Jan. 11, was National Human Trafficking Day. According to UNICEF, at least 300,000 American children and 1.2 million children worldwide are trafficked each year. Pope Francis has called human trafficking a “scourge upon the body of Christ” and a “crime against humanity.”

GSR: How was the Exchange Initiative developed, and what role did Catholic sisters play in its founding?

Ritter: The story begins in 2008, when the Federation of Sisters of St. Joseph came to Nix Conference Management and asked us to find a hotel that fights sex trafficking. As the sisters educated us about the issue, we realized that sex trafficking was occurring in the same hotels we used as meeting planners. We realized the hotel rooms could be identified by bed linens, lamps, curtains, and we realized we could use that information to make an impact.

In 2011, Nix worked with the Sisters of St. Joseph to have the Millennial Hotel in St. Louis sign the Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct (created by Dispatch USA, ECPAT [End Child Prostitution and Trafficking] and to work against trafficking. Nix created a meeting-planners code in 2012, and we wanted to do more.

Momentum grew and grew. It became bigger than what our meeting-planning company could do, so we decided to split off and develop the Exchange Initiative.

We announced Exchange Initiative — this is totally Holy Spirit! — on the opening night of Leadership Conference of Women Religious annual gathering in August 2013 in New Orleans. We received a standing ovation from the leaders of women religious. It was the most moving, amazing and blessed moment. You could feel the Spirit.

Together with Washington University researchers, the Exchange Initiative has created the TraffickCam app, which allows smartphone users to take photographs of their hotel rooms and add it to a photo database. How do authorities use information from the database to combat human trafficking?

Seventy-five percent of underage sex-trafficking victims said they had been advertised or sold online. Traffickers regularly post photographs of victims posed in hotel rooms on websites such as The database of hotel room photographs collected through the TraffickCam app can be used by law enforcement officials to pinpoint the hotel and locate victims of trafficking. They can simply drag and drop a victim’s photo and match data points.

Our goal would be to eventually give access worldwide. We have had inquiries from Interpol and from other countries who would like to have access to the database. We are going to beta test the app in the United States, perfect it and then go international.

This app gives people an opportunity to join the fight against sex trafficking with their smartphones. In just one week, the TraffickCam app had logged more than 42,000 downloads on the App Store and 14,000 downloads on Google Play. In the first four months, there have been 92,846 total downloads of the app.

Why is combating human trafficking important for you personally?

The average age of entry into the sex trade is 13. When I learned about human trafficking, my daughters were 12 and 13 years old. My Nix colleagues Molly Hackett and Jane Quinn had daughters that age, too. We are a women-owned and -operated company, and we knew we couldn’t tolerate this. This issue penetrated my heart. The travel, hotel and meeting-planning industry is in a unique place to disrupt sex trafficking.

Sex trafficking is dirty, and it’s hard to talk about. I believe the Holy Spirit brought me to the sisters to take on something that is not comfortable to talk about and deal with. The sisters stand for social justice, and I can, too.

What should everyone know about human trafficking and how they can take steps to combat it?

Human trafficking, especially child sex trafficking, has no geographic boundary and no socioeconomic boundary. It happens everywhere, in every city, every day.

It is on the rise in all 50 states. This is not something that just happens to the runaway kids or those in foster care. If your child has a computer, they are at risk for a predator. Watch out who you friend on the internet. Everyone must talk to their children about this. We need to be educating kids that not everyone is safe. We need to raise awareness on this issue. I spent the last six years working to rescue kids from this crime. I would rather prevent this than rescue victims. Prevention is key to ending human trafficking.

What is your connection with the Congregation of St. Joseph, and what more can you say about the role women religious have played in the work of the Exchange Initiative?

I have been planning meetings for the CSJs since 2006. Sr. Kathy McCluskey and the late Sr. Joyce DeShano are amazing and are especially close to my heart. The sisters encouraged me and trusted me. We worked as a team in strategizing how to get hotels to fight sex trafficking. In July 2016, the Congregation of St. Joseph gave us a $100,000 matching gift to get the TraffickCam app started.

The sisters are the catalysts for why we are here. Nix has worked with so many orders of sisters. In addition to the Sisters of St. Joseph, we’ve worked with the School Sisters of Notre Dame, the Sisters of Mercy, Franciscans, Benedictines — so many sisters! We’ve had the opportunity to learn charisms and missions of so many orders.

Kimberly Ritter receives a blessing from the St. Joseph sisters. (Courtesy of the Congregation of St. Joseph)

We have planned LCWR meetings for 12 years. Nix Conference & Meeting Management would not have been aware of this issue without the sisters. Everything is because of sisters — they provide spiritual guidance and financial support. Sisters have taught me love, compassion, strength, justice and leadership.

Human trafficking was not on my radar screen before my relationship with the sisters in the Federation of St. Joseph. You couldn’t have told me 13 years ago that I was any more than a meeting planner. Never would I have thought that this was my purpose. It’s the work of the Holy Spirit. I thank God every day that sisters have come into my life.

[Rhonda Miska is a freelance writer in Sinsinawa, Wisconsin, and a candidate with the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa. She is currently co-authoring a book on Dominican holy women from the 800-year history of the Order of Preachers.]