Skills and technology needed to combat cyber trafficking in this post COVID era
ConnectFor is a non-profit organisation that seeks to contribute to the developmental sector by facilitating engagement of the volunteering community, building capacity, and creating value added services for NGOs. For a session called Bloguary, Revathy Sreenath, a volunteer wrote a blog for Oasis India on – “Skills and technology needed to combat cyber trafficking in this post COVID era.”
There are no seven wonders of the world in the eyes of a child – there are seven million.” So precious is their childhood innocence that it tinctures all things around them with the brightest hues, radiating unadulterated happiness. Technology has enabled the sharing of this happiness beyond the boundaries of one’s home. The importance of this technology is increasing every day, and parents are leaving no stone unturned in making their kids become tech-savvy. It is no wonder that tech has kept schools going online during this global health crisis. Containment measures to control the spread of the virus meant that people spent much more time online.
Online Trafficking – Forms & Manifestations
Human trafficking is the buying and selling of people for exploitative purposes, thriving in times of conflict and crisis. With the pandemic, an advanced form of its manifestation is via the Internet. Research conducted by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) shows how victims are being targeted and recruited via social media and online dating platforms. “Today, the Internet provides easy access to a much larger group of potential victims & buyers because traditional physical and geographical limitations no longer exist. (UNODC)
- Sexual abuse and other forms of exploitation are taking place virtually; photos and videos are sold further on different platforms to customers worldwide, resulting in even more money for traffickers at no additional cost.
- Traffickers are currently using technology to profile, recruit, control, and exploit their victims as well as using the Internet, especially the dark web, to hide illegal materials stemming from trafficking without ever having to meet them in person.
- Traffickers create fake websites or post advertisements on legitimate employment portals and social networking websites. Some of these sites feature the option of a live chat. This gives traffickers immediate contact and an opportunity to obtain personal information, enhancing their power over targeted victims.
- Location-tracking applications and use of global positioning systems in mobile phones can be used to determine the victim’s location, while cameras in smartphones used during video calls enable traffickers to see their victims and their surroundings.
- Traffickers also maintain control over their victims by threatening to release intimate photos or videos of them to family and friends if they do not comply with their demands.
The illicit proceeds from this highly profitable crime are also being laundered online through crypto currencies, which makes it easier for traffickers to receive, hide, and move large amounts of money with less risk of being detected. The global nature of human trafficking and the abuse of technology makes it even more difficult for law enforcement authorities to tackle this crime. When a crime is planned in one country, with victims in another country, and a customer in a third, law enforcement authorities face practical challenges such as finding and securing evidence, as any investigation requires cooperation across borders and a certain level of digital expertise.” (UNODC)
Who is at risk and why?
Essentially all children are at risk of exploitation on the Internet. Certain characteristics and behaviours can make children more vulnerable to trafficking; examples include:
- Adolescence • Social isolation • Parental conflict • History of physical abuse • Depression Bullying • Poverty • Urbanisation • Family disintegration
Examples: boys seeking out support online in relation to the development of their sexual identity, adolescent children’s interest in accessing pornographic materials online, and all children are vulnerable to sexual exploition online.
Children need protection from predatory criminals who turn the vulnerability and desperation of their victims into big business. Accurate CSEA (Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse) data is particularly difficult to find, especially online. However, the available data indicates that girls are more likely to be affected. A significant number of boys are also affected, but less is known about their experiences as they are less likely to be asked in surveys. For example, many demographic and health surveys include girls and women as participants from the age of 15. This renders the experiences of boys and younger children invisible. A recent global survey found that the problem of CSEA against boys is “largely unknown, unacknowledged, and not responded to, across a wide range of contexts and cultures due to social norms which shape perceptions that boys are not vulnerable.” – which makes rescue & rehabilitation even more difficult.
So how do we protect our children…What next?
Despite the increasing criminal usage of technology by traffickers, technology can also be used to identify victims and support police investigations and prosecutions, thus providing hope for the most vulnerable kids. We strongly need to adopt a common approach to combat human trafficking online effectively at the national and international level.
Prevention and Awareness
We need to amplify the reach of awareness & educational resources across all communities.
- The key step to combating this growing menace is through awareness. Starting with knowledge of “how” and “why” to start with can create a safety matrix for young children and girls who are increasingly on the radar of sex traffickers. Awareness-raising activities as part of the curriculum, coupled with support for teachers and teaching materials, can make a difference. Educational programmes for younger children must take account of their dependence on those abusing them and offer realistic reporting mechanisms to seek assistance outside of the family or caretaking relationship. Educational programmes regarding safe practices when sharing self-generated images, videos, etc., especially with children in the age group of 11–15 years old; and education programmes related to perpetrators contacting children directly should be focused on older children aged 14–15 and above.
- Targeted resources and support for identifying behavioural changes – to equip parents with knowledge, ideas, and ways to communicate with children to protect them from online sexual abuse.
- Sextortion is a topic that needs to be included in education about the risks involved in the use of social media and video chats directed at children aged 8–17 years old;
- Wide dissemination of key messages in public areas and throughout the private sector.
- Engagement of media to promote the campaign.
- Certification programme for partners in the tourism sector.
- Training for partners and workshops with community members.
- National awareness-raising campaigns and reporting and response mechanisms – including helplines.
Pursuit, Disruption, and Prosecution
- It is essential to normalise and scale proactive detection of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) across digital platforms. This will help in identifying, apprehending, and prosecuting offenders.
- We should also take into consideration new methods by which traffickers recruit victims and take measures to develop targeted awareness-raising campaigns, specialised training for law enforcement and criminal justice practitioners.
Protection & Partnerships
- Protecting victims from further abuse through victim identification, accelerated detection and removal of publicly available images, and providing support services for victims and survivors.
- Protecting people is about providing access to information. – where to go for help, where to go if you have a grievance, and raising awareness of child helplines for reporting instances of abuse and reducing stigma around reporting will help prevent child sexual exploitation on the Internet. For example, when one is enslaved in domestic work and gets an opportunity to use someone’s phone, who do you contact to get help?
Tech for Good:
Technology is beneficial when used to raise awareness about human trafficking online through activities such as virtual teaching and tailoring content for children, youth, parents, teachers, health professionals, and others, allowing us to reach a larger audience.
Innovations in technological methods and techniques such as Web crawling, PhotoDNA, and databases have contributed to improving forensic processes to advance investigations of cases of trafficking, including child sexual exploitation.
There is no greater inhumanity in the world than the social evils of child trafficking. It is our responsibility to take this onus to be aware and educate our children, and those around us on the safe usage of the internet. Being aware of potential traps online will go a long way in preventing the cyber trafficking menace. Every child is a gift and their life or innocence should never be up for sale. Let’s give every child their today by protecting, educating, and creating awareness about the right usage of social media and the associated evils of online trafficking.
“An aware child is a protected child”