A photo of your hotel room can help fight sex trafficking

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Since 2007, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) has received more than 14,500 reports of sex trafficking in the United States alone. In 2014, NCMEC estimated that at least one in six reported endangered runaways is a victim of sex trafficking.

There is no immediate solution to ending this form of modern-day slavery, but a number of initiatives and groups are aiming to make a dent in the statistics with the help of TraffickCam, an online service and accompanying smartphone application designed to catch traffickers who post photographs of their victims online.

Created in 2015 by the Exchange Initiative, TraffickCam helps “combat sex trafficking by [asking people to upload] photos of the hotel rooms you stay in when you travel.” By relying on crowdsourced photographs, authorities can create a comprehensive database and, in turn, work with a much larger collection of information than would otherwise be attainable.


Using your photos and the thousands of others already in the database, authorities can attempt to match specific rooms with those found in uploaded photographs of potential victims in hopes of narrowing down the identity of the perpetrators.

The process of submitting photographs is quite simple. Open up the TraffickCam smartphone app, snap four photographs of the hotel room you’re staying at, note which hotel and room you’re in, and submit it. You can also use the browser app.

As for what you should photograph inside the room, TraffickCam has given the following suggestions: “We recommend taking two pictures of the entire room from different locations, one picture of the bed from the foot of the bed, and one picture of the bathroom from the doorway. Please make sure there are no people in your photos.”

By submitting the photographs, you are releasing them under a Creative Commons CC0 license, effectively waiving your rights to the image. In doing so, you’re contributing to a growing database that has the potential to bring down the perpetrators of sex-trafficking crimes.

For more information, you can head on over to TraffickCam’s website. Besides contributing your own photographs during your travels, the second-best option to help with this initiative is to share this tool with your friends and family to further add to the growing database of photos and hotel rooms.

Although this is a standalone project for the time being, it would be incredibly interesting to see how image-recognition technologies can help further improve the process. Hotel rooms tend to be identical from one room to the next, but with image-recognition getting better by the day, it’s not hard to imagine small, intricate anomalies being picked up and matched from the crowdsourced photos and online content posted by the perpetrators.

You can download both the iOS app and Android app in their respective app stores.


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