The Pink Alpacas

Topic:

We will be delving deeper into sex trafficking in the online world. Many people think of sex trafficking as a physical act or transaction, but it extends into the online world as well. Platforms such as video chat are being used in place of physical encounters, girls are auctioned off via online chatrooms, and social media is being used both to lure girls into trafficking rings and to catch perpetrators. We will focus on the anonymity, common misconceptions, privacy/hacking, digital alternatives to prostitution, and technology used to combat sex trafficking.

Artifact:

Info graphics – this will serve to educate other web users on how the Internet can be a dangerous tool used in the buying and selling of humans for sex, and how it can also be recruited to aid in the elimination of this horror. It will be useful for our group to utilize tutorials for software such as Adobe InDesign, which will be helpful in building an info graphic artifact. We also thought that other interactive maps and graphs could be used to allow users to engage with information and to get a visual of this worldwide phenomenon. In addition, displaying this information on a website will be a good way to organize everything for users and will allow us to use website design techniques to effectively highlight important information.

Social media campaign – With the expansion of the availability of advanced technology and Internet, sex traffickers have taken advantage of this phenomenon “to exploit a greater number of victims and advertise their services across geographic boundaries.” Therefore, why don’t we use social media and technology to combat the issue instead? We developed a campaign website using WordPress where we covered several areas explaining the issue. We also created Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest pages for the campaign in order to spread awareness on the issue.

Link to website: http://letsstopthetraffick.wordpress.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Stop-the-Traffick/771460712911195

Twitter: https://twitter.com/the_traffick

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/stopthetraffick/

 

Essay:

We all agree that attending a social justice-oriented university has exposed us students to a world of important issues outside of our campus bubble. The discussions in this class have also brought up some controversial and thought-provoking topics that beg further exploration and inquiry. For our final project, we wanted to choose something equally dimensional, something that crosses boundaries like space, age, race, class, and gender–human sex trafficking. Denotatively, sex trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act  where the act is forced or coerced. Connotatively, sex trafficking is taboo, off-limits, and someone else’s problem–nothing we need to worry about here in the United States. Unfortunately, sex trafficking happens all over the world, even in the U.S., and technology plays a major role in furthering this crime. Websites like eBay, Craigslist and Backpage are frequently used by pimps and madams to advertise and sell sex, and the anonymity of Facebook and Myspace has made it easy to lure victims into meeting traffickers under false pretenses. Additionally, webcam-based social platforms allow customers to view sex slave victims who may live continents away. Erotic and violent video games have desensitized users and normalized sexual harm, adding to the slew of problems surrounding human trafficking. While new media has many properties that have made this industry elusive and seemingly unstoppable, such as relatively easy access and anonymity, there are ways to harness these same characteristics to stop sex trafficking. The very websites used by traffickers to lure and trap young people are being used to trace IP addresses and catch offenders. Social media websites have allowed recovering victims to share their stories and connect with each other in a way never before possible. Our group became interested in how the digital age we live in has affected and influenced the issue of sex trafficking, for better and for worse. In addition to researching this topic, we decided to take what we have learned about digital media and put it to good use. Through a multi-faceted social media campaign, we hope to educate others about sex trafficking, dispel any myths and preconceived notions about it, and empower people to join us in taking action.   

Human trafficking has been a global issue for several centuries, but recently with the development and advancement of technology, sex trafficking has expanded into the online world, allowing “traffickers the unprecedented ability to exploit a greater number of victims and advertise their services across geographic boundaries.”  The expansion of sex trafficking into the digital is intriguing. We, as a group, believe that this is an ever-evolving issue that must be addressed. The problem with the entire world of sex trafficking is the lack of statistics and concrete evidence of who is exploited or is doing the exploiting, and where the crimes are taking place. With the expansion of technology across the globe, allowing for easier anonymity, we face a greater problem of tracking down and exposing traffickers. Although the development of technology has allowed the trafficking world more opportunities to exploit, we believe there is also the possibility to use technology to combat the issue. Technology is a great phenomenon we are very fortunate to have access to and people may use it in many different ways – good and bad. We believe in using technology to develop techniques of monitoring flagged websites for potential trafficking activities, tracking down offenders, and spreading awareness to prevent others from falling into the trafficking world. Human trafficking is an issue that will never completely erase itself from the face of the earth. However, we believe that by spreading awareness on the issue, there is the possibility of diminishing the scope of those exploited.

A very difficult and broad matter to address, human trafficking has many causes including (but not limited to) poverty and inequality. More can be found on the issue of inequality and poverty at The Institute for Trafficked and Missing Persons . These are greater issues that go beyond our short campaign, but as Robert Collier, an American author of metaphysics and self-help, once said, “Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.” Even taking the smallest step in the right direction may lead to something great in the future.

Usually, sex trafficking is assumed to only exist in impoverished, low socioeconomic areas based on stereotypes and stigmas. Unfortunately, sex trafficking occurs just about everywhere, even in the city of Chicago. There are scary stories of men and women falling prey to ploys that lead to different types of sex trafficking. Many dating apps  and sites have been connected to sex trafficking groups and organizations. All different types of people have fallen victim to bogus dating apps and sites, leading them to a very dangerous lifestyle. Many Americans are quick to believe that sex trafficking is not an issue in America, but these deceiving apps are just one of many facts disproving common thought. Sadly, people are mistaken about sex trafficking, and don’t know about the 3,500+ reports of sex trafficking cases in the U.S. in 2013. However, statistics on sex trafficking can be difficult to accurately quantify and research because very few men and women who are victims of this crime have the courage to come forward, leaving many voices unheard. We also want to bring light to the number of people of each gender affected, which is not as drastically different as commonly thought. The reported ratio of affected women to men in 2013 was 55% to 45%, which is pretty even and does not support the belief that only women get trafficked. It is extremely important that myths surrounding human trafficking are dispelled because educating people on human trafficking is the first step we can take in ending this horrendous crime.

According to an International Labor Organization report in 2013, about 4.5 million people are victims of the sex trafficking industry. However, due to the secretive nature of the sex trafficking business, the total number of victims will never be known. One thing that remains clear is the degrading role the internet plays in aiding the sex trafficking industry. Pimps and madams are able to use social media and online classifying sites to search, contact, advertise, and sell their victims. In Attorney Erin I. Kunze’s essay, Sex Trafficking Via the Internet: How international Agreements Address the Problem and Fail to go Far Enough, Kunze acknowledges that the internet medium has become popular in this industry because it is highly unregulated in most countries, and allows those who participate in the buying and selling aspects of the industry to share their experiences with minimal fear of prosecution. Additionally, the internet allows predators to hide behind the shade of anonymity. Casual content sharing creates the essence of normality in online sex trafficking, thus permitting those to act overconfidently about their illegal activity.

The internet, particularly social media, enables users to creatively express themselves, exchange ideas, and establish significant personal relationships with others. In Douglas Rushkoff’s book, Programed or Be Programed, he acknowledges that in order to experience these characteristics in a healthy and productive way, there must initially be an overwhelming presence of self-identity when conducting ourselves online. He writes:

“The less we take responsibility for what we say and do online, the more likely we are to behave in ways that reflect our worst natures- or even the worst natures of others. Because digital technology is biased towards depersonalization, we must make an effort not to operate anonymously, unless absolutely necessary. We must be ourselves.” (88)

However, just as “our worst natures” are expressed when we fail to be ourselves on social media sites, so are our projections of false kind-heartedness, as was the case with Tevon Harris, a convicted trafficker, from Houston, Texas.

Harris used social media sites to search, contact, and lure underaged girls into the sex trafficking industry. Before exploiting his victims, Harris complimented them and fed them false hopes of becoming fashion models. But once Harris’ true intentions were revealed, it was too late. When he met his young victims in person, he sexually and physically assaulted them to gain control, a common ritual in sex trafficking. The same social media sites Harris used to sweet talk his victims were then used to advertise the girls to potential clients. Harris is currently serving 40 years in prison for his crimes. Tragically, his story is only one of a slew of other predators to utilize social media sites to make advancements in the sex trafficking industry.

While sex trafficking may be thriving in some parts of  the world, it is important to point out the work being done to solve, diminish, and prevent the presence of sex trafficking, as well as helping those affected by this horrible practice. Education, initiatives, and organizations are being created and started in cities across the U.S., including Chicago, in attempts to combat this issue. The Salvation Army has recently created a program called STOP-IT. STOP-IT’s main focus is to assist people in leaving or escaping trafficking situations and preventing them from returning to abusive pimps. Their aid includes providing clothing, identification documentation, housing, schooling, job training, and other tools to help get victims back on their feet. On a larger scale, the United States Military is taking steps to combat human trafficking in the form of active bystander training. This type of training is making sure that the men and women of our military know how to detect and prevent sex trafficking. Additionally, they are trained to give aid to victims of sex trafficking once rescued.

In today’s society, the growth of media and technology has the power to greatly benefit or hurt the issue of human sex trafficking. With the rise in media and communication there are, “major implications for both the spread of human trafficking and for anti-trafficking efforts, and should be carefully considered by law enforcement, policymakers, and activists as they develop strategies to combat human trafficking.” The nature of technology has the power to lure someone into sex trafficking as in the Harris case. Conversely, technology can also save a person’s life who is stuck in a sex trafficking situation. For example, IP addresses can be traced, user info hacked, and online patterns established that can lead authorities to perpetrators. The government may be spearheading initiatives to handle and eliminate sex trafficking cases, but despite this intervention there also needs to be more effort put into studying the power behind media and technology’s role in the proliferation of this issue.

With this in mind, the Pink Alpacas have made a collective decision to use the same medium that aids the sex trafficking industry to combat it. Through our social media campaign and website, our intention is to bring awareness to this issue and to inform people of the devastating effects the sex trafficking industry has on its many victims and society as a whole. This latter part is specifically communicated through the use of our infographics which can be found in the testimony section of our website. The purpose of these infographics is to take our audience through the stories of convicted traffickers and victims across the United States. This allows us to drive home the message that the sex trafficking industry exists in both foreign countries as well as here in the United States.

 

Group members:

Emma Currens: (513) 600-4469, ecurrens@luc.edu

Suzie Vyletel: (313) 303-2922, svyletel@luc.edu

Jessica Lodzinski: (630) 487-7118, jlodzinski@luc.edu

Lauren Smith: (773) 318-0062, lsmith16@luc.edu

Dana D’Onofrio: (630) 401-9014, ddonofrio1@luc.edu

 

Schedule:

Info graphic inspiration: (October 24)

Preliminary research of topic: (October 31st)

Preliminary presentation to the class: (November 3rd)

Practice with info graphic lay out: (November 7th)

Bring information together: (November 14th)

Send essay material to Emma for editing: (December 2nd)

Final group meeting/presentation run-through: (December 4th)

Project due/presentation: (December 5th)

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