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Although the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) has a hotline, Thorn found that "81 percent of [minor sex workers] never saw" the number. The same percentage of minor sex workers said they would have "wanted help to escape at some point during their trafficking situation." In addressing this information gap, they focused in on another statistic: 75 percent of those surveyed had a cellphone while being trafficked. To make the NHTRC more accessible and allow traffickees to get help on their own terms, Thorn developed a text shortcode, "BEFREE," which is easier to remember than a phone number and allows for less conspicuous communication than a call. Schmidt noted that her group is working on making information about shortcode more available through "online ads, text messages, [and] print ads in hotels"–the top three formats surveyed victims said they would have liked.
And Thorn isn't just trying to help victims.
"As opposed to arresting everybody who's ever downloaded a child pornography file," Schmidt said, she wants to deter people with targeted messages. Thorn sets up decoy files and sites that redirect to "people who are already out there looking for child porn to click and end up ... on our landing pages" where they'll be located on a map (no more intrusive than geotargeted online ads) and given links to help resources without getting police involved. Over three years "we've gotten a million people to come to our landing pages so far... and we're seeing about... seven percent" of people clicking those links, Schmidt said, which "is a really high percentage in advertising terms."
Thorn can't be expected to solve all the problems of child sex trafficking. The organization is moving outreach in the right direction with its technological focus, but Thorn is not flawless. They're working on a broad problem that needs many tailored responses. Given the tech world's creative, competitive, and charitable culture, we may soon see even better ideas emerge on how to better protect the rights of these vulnerable members of society.