New tech tool helps agencies better identify sex trafficking victims

Allies Against Slavery

The Austin-based nonprofit, Allies Against Slavery, has developed new technology to help social service agencies identify victims of human trafficking. The screening tool, called Lighthouse, makes it possible for organizations to quickly and effectively identify whether their clients are being exploited.

Human trafficking remains a prevalent problem in Texas and across the world. A study conducted by UT-Austin’s School of Social Work Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, in partnership with Allies Against Slavery, found that there are currently an estimated 313,000 victims in Texas, with 79,000 of those being minors. It can take the form of labor exploitation where victims are being forced to work without pay or sex trafficking where victims are forced to participate in sex acts. But identifying those people being exploited can be difficult. Allies Against Slavery says that as few as two percent of victims are identified and connected to the right care, while studies reveal that up to 88 percent of victims report interacting with someone during their trafficking experience who could have helped them.

The Lighthouse tool is used by agencies that have direct interaction with people who have been or are currently being victimized. Tally Jorn, a program coordinator at Allies Against Slavery, said, “Individuals under the control of a trafficker are very often living in fear and are taught ways to act to hide from people who can help. They’re trained to provide as minimal information as possible.”

The Lighthouse screening tool walks agencies through questions to ask and things to look for in order to make the best determination. “Often those who are working with people who are being exploited are asking the wrong questions,” said Jorn. “Social workers must take time to build rapport and to ask questions that get to know the individual more. It takes really listening and tuning in.” In the last year, more than 700 social workers and others across Texas are learning how to use the tool and other Allies resources through workshops and hands-on-training.

Events like South by Southwest can serve as hotbeds for human trafficking, says John Nehme, president and CEO of Allies Against Slavery. “There is something called the demand effect,” Nehme said. “When a large event brings in crowds of people, often crowds of men…it also brings a demand for elicit activity, including sex trafficking.”

But, he adds, human trafficking is a year-round issue. “Our position is that this is happening 365 days a year, at metropolitan centers all across the country.”

PHOTO: Tally Jorn of Allies Against Slavery leads a training to help social workers identify victims of human trafficking. Contributed by Allies Against Slavery

This story was also published in the Austin American-Statesman on March 17, 2019.

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