LatinaLista — Over the last few years, a lot of good organizations have done a great job in getting people to understand that modern-day slavery is alive and well. Some organizations have gone so far as to list the warning signs of someone who may be enslaved or being trafficked and who concerned citizens can call to get the victims help.
Yet, little has been done to make it easy for the victims to get help themselves. Constantly monitored by their employers or 'johns,' these victims soon learn that escape is impossible, unless they have a cell phone.
Ironically, the one piece of technology that is used against the victims — so they can be on a constant leash with their abusers — is also the one thing that allows them to call for help. Not 9-1-1 but an easy to remember SMS shortcode that is focused only on helping and freeing victims of human trafficking.
"BeFree" is the shortcode (for 233733) any victim can use to contact the 24-7 hotline of the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTR), operated by Polaris Project, one of the developers of a new nationwide campaign to help human trafficking victims.
Polaris Project and Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children unveiled the SMS shortcode today. Once a text message has been sent, it will be sent discreetly to the NHTRC hotline. A specialist will respond by text back to the victim to help them, whether by informing them of nearby shelters, where to get medical care, or communicating with law enforcement officials to get urgent help.
“Our research with child sex trafficking survivors has shown that many of them use text messaging as their primary form of communication and that, when under the control of their trafficker, they were in need of more accessible, discreet forms of communication to seek help,” said Julie Cordua, Executive Director, Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children. “This partnership with Polaris Project to increase access to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center is a big step forward in meeting the needs of those still being exploited.”
The hotline staff is proficient in 170 different languages, but those handling the texts are primarily fluent in English with some familiar with Spanish.
The biggest challenge to the success of the program will be getting more victims aware of it. A major marketing campaign will encompass signs at bus stops, stores and anywhere victims of human trafficking may pass through — holding the hope for a normal life in the palm of their hands.