Texting to Reach Human Trafficking Victims

By Eun Yang and Alana Wise
Published on March 5, 2014 by NBC Washington

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As the world’s technology becomes more sophisticated, so does the battle against human trafficking. The Polaris Project, a text hotline, has joined this fight and offers a quiet alternative for victims to seek help.

Texting has become the latest outlet for victims of human trafficking to alert authorities and get information on how to escape.

The Polaris Project allows victims of human trafficking to report tips and connect with anti-trafficking services in the area. It helps survivors learn how to cope with the trauma of the experience.

The service differs from other hotlines as it does not require the victim to hold any audible conversation with operators, in case they are in a position where their trafficker is in earshot of them.

Alden Pinkham, a Polaris hotline trainer, says the fear of having their pleas for help overheard by their trafficker is a common threat for victims.

Last year, Polaris launched “Be Free,” a service that allows victims to text BeFree (233733) to reach the hotline and take advantage of the system.

“We just want them to know that they can reach out to us again, as many times as they want,” Pinkham said.

That process has challenges. Despite being offered help, many victims have only a limited amount of time where they can text, and some have difficulties finding the trust to forge new relationships given their circumstances.

“There’s a trust barrier where you kind of have to do some relationship building first before you could just start diving in and asking questions,” Pinkham said.

Also adding to the difficulty on reaching human traffickers is as organizations like Polaris begin to utilize texting to stop human trafficking, it’s only a matter of time before traffickers begin to use it as well.

“Traffickers are nimble, they’re dynamic, they’re fluid,” said Brad Myles, of Polaris. “It’s a question of who really outsmarts the other.”

Despite these hurdles, Polaris continues to try to reach victims.

The Polaris Project is non-governmental, so they do not have the power to make arrests or deportations. They can, however, put victims in touch with authorities who can.

To reach the Project, call 1-888-373-7888 or text BeFree (233733) if you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking. The hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.