How Technology Fought Human Trafficking

By Justin Fung 7-14-2010

A couple of months ago, the MetaFilter weblog community came together to rescue a couple of young Russian women from the clutches of a human trafficking ring.

In mid-May, regular poster Dan Reetz submitted an appeal for help, entitled "Help me help my friend in D.C." As Newsweek reported:

Reetz had discovered that two of his female Russian friends -- one 18-years-old and the other 20 -- were stranded in D.C. in very suspicious circumstances. The women came to the United States through a company called Aloha Travel, which had promised them jobs in Washington, D.C. The employment mysteriously fell through and the girls received instructions to meet a potential employer at midnight in a shady New York nightclub where they would work as "hostesses." Reetz suspected the worst.

In response, the MetaFilter community sprang into action, offering advice and help. One account describes the online narrative as resembling "the play-by-play from an alternate reality game, wherein complete strangers work together to solve a complex mystery." Only this was real. And by the quick thinking and selfless support of the members of this online community, two girls were spared from what was almost certainly a sex slavery ring. [Apologies for the entirely undramatic summary of what was most definitely a dramatic story; you can (and should) read the whole story here, the MetaFilter narrative here, and Dan's recap here.]

It was a pretty stark illustration of two points: first, human trafficking is not some foreign occurrence that only takes place in countries like Thailand or Russia. It goes on right here in the U.S., in our own backyard. Second, combating human trafficking doesn't have to be some foreign expedition that takes you to sub-Saharan Africa or South America. There are organizations here in the U.S. that focus on tackling domestic trafficking -- the Polaris Project, DC Stop Modern Slavery, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking, to name but a few. (More here.)

Of course, human trafficking does take place overseas as well. And combating it can take the form of going overseas. But it's a crime so monstrous, as Ben Skinner described it, and a crime so global that we all need to be fighting it, wherever we might be.

27 million modern slaves are yearning for freedom. Millions more, all made in the image of God, are at risk of being trafficked every day. And opportunities to help are out there. May God give us the eyes to see.

portrait-justin-fung-1Justin Fung is the policy and organizing assistant for Sojourners. A graduate of University College London (Law) and Fuller Theological Seminary (Theology/Cross-Cultural Studies), he blogs regularly at Gershom's Journal and tweets from @justinfung.

+ Fight international child trafficking. Sign the petition in support of the Child Protection Compact Act.

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