Women and girls use code to disrupt human trafficking

October 20, 2019 devadvin

The Annual Ideagen United Nations Empowering Women & Girls 2030 Summit connects leaders and visionaries across sectors to discuss challenges and develop solutions to empower women and girls across the planet. IBM is proud to be the leading board organization co-hosting the summit.

Annual Ideagen United Nations Empowering Women & Girls 2030 Summit banner

This year we also organized a pre-summit event at Nasdaq MarketSite focused on preventing and disrupting human trafficking. I was thrilled and humbled to connect with clients, representatives of other technology companies, experts from non-profit organizations, and young women who will become future leaders to brainstorm ways to disrupt human trafficking.

IBM Code and Response: Changing the world through code

First up on the agenda was our IBM Code and Response event. IBM Code and Response is a $25 million, four-year initiative to build, fortify, test, and launch open technology solutions to help communities that need critical aid. Our focus for 2019 is “Disaster Preparation and Recovery,” with an emphasis on health and wellness.

We kicked off the event with Martin Laird, Director, IBM.org, and Johanna Koester, Director, Worldwide Developer Advocacy, who described IBM’s commitment to “Smart for Good” through the alignment of our business imperatives with our values. This alignment happens through programs such as Code and Response, where our developer advocates help showcase “Coding for Good,” which in turn inspires software engineers to solve some of the world’s toughest challenges and, ultimately, save lives.

We’ve learned through our research that communities become particularly vulnerable to human trafficking after a natural disaster. While women and girls are the primary target of traffickers, boys are also vulnerable. We were eager to figure out ways to apply technology to solve this overwhelming issue.

IBM Code and Response workgroup

Human trafficking through sexual slavery: A $150 billion industry

We started by learning from the experts. Tamara Chant, Board Chair for Nepal Orphans Home, reminded us that the core issues behind human trafficking are poverty, limited community, and lack of access to education. Her organization has seen first-hand the effect of earthquakes on the lives of young girls, which led them to launch the Earthquake Relief Fund for both short-term humanitarian assistance and longer-run reconstruction and development. In Nepal, children as young as six years old are sold into slavery. More than half of the girls in their program have been rescued from lives of bonded servitude in western Nepal.

In 2019, Nepal Orphans Home:

  • Provides for 47 children in Papa’s House
  • Supports 18 adolescents attending college preparatory classes
  • Funds the higher education of 39 young adults.
  • Nearly half of the children are former Kamlari girls rescued from past indentured servitude.

To help, please:

Jeremy Vallerand followed with the story of Rescue Freedom, a non-profit organization that rescues women and girls from sexual slavery around the world. I was stunned to learn that globally, over 40 million people are victims of sexual slavery, part of a $150 billion-dollar industry. Additionally, 25% of all women shown in pornography are victims of human trafficking, as are nearly 100% of children.

The problem exists because of the huge demand of people willing to pay for sex and pornography. Traffickers supply that demand through human slavery that crosses all countries, socioeconomic boundaries, communities, classes, nationalities, and races.

Operating in 18 countries, Rescue Freedom removes an average of 10 people per week from trafficking, with 33,000 individuals per year receiving preventative education. Jeremy explained that Rescue Freedom works with orphanages, protective safe houses, and government agencies to stop traffickers in their tracks and protect those women, girls, and boys who have been trafficked, getting them to safety, freedom, and the journey toward healthy and fulfilling lives.

But the challenge lies in making sure that the information needed to find and eradicate traffic migration paths is available in time to safely intercept those trafficked. It isn’t just about knowing physical locations — they change constantly. It’s also about finding the digital footprints and fingerprints that lead to the places where trafficking transforms into slavery. Even something as apparently simple as tracking basic social media communications on mobile devices can make all the difference.

To help, please:

Stop the Traffik: How technology can help

IBM Code for Good presentation on human trafficking
We turned our attention to how technology can help us stop this heartbreaking problem. John McGrath of the IBM Code for Good team in Dublin, Ireland, showed us how his team is working with Stop the Traffik, a human-trafficking prevention organization, to provide part of the solution.

By applying artificial intelligence and data analysis, the team is helping to uncover global trends and hotspots in human trafficking and slavery. By importing location-based trafficking data into visual analysis environments, aid agencies can observe clusters of activity that would not otherwise be revealed with such geographic precision.

The team also provided an overview of a downloadable app for reporting trafficking incidents around the world, underlining the fact that “we cannot stop what we cannot see,” and reminding us how important it is that everyone be vigilant and engaged to help eradicate human trafficking forever.

Making an impact: Using empathy to design new solutions

And then it was time to roll up our sleeves and get to work! Angie Krackeler, IBM Developer and Startup Advocacy, got us started by giving us a choice of activity. The first option was to dive into a coding project focused on tone sentiment in social media.

Alternatively, we could participate in a design-thinking collaborative innovation session designed to democratize support and funding for survivors. The goal was to have survivors take control of the next, healthiest chapter in their lives through access to education, housing, job skills, health and wellness support, and other resources, all focused on empowering them to advocate for themselves and develop life skills.

These workshops were created, orchestrated, and facilitated by Digital Business Group Developer Advocacy, the Code for Good team, and IBM Global Business Services!

Code team

Pooja Mistry, IBM Developer Advocate, got the STEM coders started by helping us understand the basics behind Watson Tone and sentiment analysis APIs. She walked us through a workshop using Node-RED and IBM Watson APIs to analyze social media sentiment.

Social media data is one of the elements that Stop the Traffik analyzes to pinpoint hotspots of increased human trafficking behavioral activity; it can predict potential abductions or trafficking migrations. Pooja’s workshop showed how easy it is to get started with prototyping with Node-RED, and how data coming in from social media can be analyzed in different ways. We also learned how to use Watson visual recognition technology to analyze satellite imagery that could show suspicious activity.

Our youngest participants (age 11 to 15!) were actually the most well-versed in technologies like Node-Red for visual coding. It was eye-opening for everyone to see that what could normally be perceived as subtle nuances were, in the digital world, actually glaring indicators of aggressive pre-trafficking behaviors and patterns.

Design team

Sunanda Saxena, IBM Services Global Makers Leader, and Ray DeLaPena, IBM Services Developer Principal and Design Lead, applied IBM’s approach to human-led design-thinking to identify and disrupt the path toward trafficking and slavery. They also showed that individuals and organizations can help at any stage in the cycle.

The design-thinking team created personas for everyone impacted by this journey, from survivors and activists to analysts and safe-house administrators. They created empathy maps by examining how these people think and feel, and what they say and do in each stage of the trafficking process. From the empathy maps, they identified the places where technology could help.

Using design thinking, the team embedded technology within each stage of the human-based process to make sure it could truly address the problems experienced by the individuals involved. The requirements created by this group will feed into the next release of Stop the Traffik and future efforts with Rescue Freedom and Home for Nepal Orphans.

Taking action

The Code and Response workshop gave us all concrete actions we can take to improve the lives of women and girls around the globe, even at the most basic levels. As Jeremy reminded us, we can end human trafficking — through awareness, collaboration, and connecting concerned individuals with organizations that can take real steps, all aided and powered by technology.

Ideagen and UN Sustainable Development goals

Our diverse teams of current and future leaders left energized and committed to continue the work we started together. It was exciting to see how these sessions connected directly to many of the United Nations Sustainable Development goals: Humanitarian Protection, Gender Equality, Decent Work and Economic Growth, and Sustainable Cities and Communities. When you solve one problem, it gets easier to extend that solution to solve others.

Our participants are ready to make a difference. Kaelin Quick, an IBM.org partner and Operations Coordinator for Place of Hope, a Florida foster-care system for survivors of human trafficking, said it best after our intensive day: “Collaborative innovation like this creates a movement, and movements don’t just change lives — they change the world.”

The Women & Girls Achieve 2030 event kicked off the Annual Ideagen United Nations Empowering Women & Girls 2030 Summit held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Special thanks to Martin Laird, Senior Program Manager, Corporate Citizenship; Johanna Koester, Elaine Granoff, Pooja Mistry, and Angie Krackeler, IBM Developer Advocacy; John McGrath, IBM Code for Good; Jeremy Vallerand, Rescue Freedom; Tamara Chant, Nepal Orphans Home; Sunanda Saxena, IBM Design Thinking; Kim Smith, Vice President, IBM Global Business Services; and the entire volunteer team for their hard work to make this event possible.


Steph Parkin

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