Technology and Human Trafficking

A Brief Overview of Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is the exploitation of another person for profit, labor, or some other material or service. It usually involves some sort of manipulation of the victim. This manipulation may take the form of force, coercion, misinformation, or a number of other tactics. Many of them are dependent on the type of exploitation a trafficker intends to recruit their victim into or who the victim is. For example, a victim of labor trafficking may be offered a  job that they are desperate for, only to find when they arrive at the new job that they are being paid extremely low wages, made to work long hours, and required to live in housing provided by their employer, effectively trapping the victim in servitude.

How Technology Applies to Trafficking

As technology has advanced, so has its role in the realm of human trafficking. Traffickers have been known to use technology, especially social media and tracking devices/apps to recruit victims, exploit them, and keep them under their trafficker’s control.

 Social Media

    Social media can be an excellent tool for networking, advertising, and keeping in touch with family and friends. However, it can also be an easy access point for traffickers and other ill-meaning individuals to contact or dig up information on a current/potential victim. In the case of child trafficking especially, traffickers use social media to “groom” their victims. They build a relationship between themselves and the target through online text and chat functions. As this relationship progresses, the victim begins trusting the groomer, who can use the victim’s emotional attachment to them to manipulate them into doing things for them. This could include agreeing to meet up in person, send explicit content, or a number of other things.

    Beyond recruitment, this same method is sometimes employed to keep a victim in the trafficking situation they’ve found themselves in. If a trafficked individual is convinced to send explicit content to their trafficker, or if they have posted explicit content to a forum such as Pornhub or OnlyFans, a person in possession of that material may use it as a means of blackmailing the victim. For example, if a groomer has convinced a child to send them suggestive pictures of themselves, the groomer might then tell the child that they will send the pictures to their parents or peers unless the child agrees to keep their relationship with the groomer secret and/or continue to send similar material.


    Once an individual has been recruited into a trafficking situation, the use of tracking technology might be used by the trafficker to keep the victim from leaving. Smartphones have extremely sophisticated GPS systems built into them. This makes it easy for a trafficker to keep tabs on a victim’s whereabouts if they use a tracking app or install a separate tracker on the phone. Similarly, a trafficker might attach a tracking device to a victim’s car so that they can verify the places a victim goes if they are allowed independent travel. These tracking methods make it dangerous for victims to seek out help. If a trafficker has access to all of the places a victim goes, it’s often too risky for them to go places like a shelter or police station, where a trafficker would know they are trying to escape.

Safe Technology Practices

While victims of any crime are blameless for their situation, there are some precautions that everyone should consider taking to make being taken advantage of less likely:

  • Have discussions about online safety. Especially when allowing children or people who are not used to conducting themselves online, it is important to discuss internet safety habits. Setting up boundaries for what sites should be accessed, what suspicious activity looks like, what posts are appropriate to make, and who is safe to talk to is important in creating a secure environment for internet use.

  • Check privacy settings on all social media accounts. In general, keeping traffickers or any other ill-meaning individual from manipulating someone is easiest when access to that person is cut off or extremely limited. Making sure personal accounts on social media have as little personal information visible to the public as possible and preventing strangers from going through or messaging one’s account makes social media a safer, more secure experience for its users.

  • Disable tracking capabilities on any application that does not require it. Many apps and social media sites have geotagging capabilities built into them. Removing location permissions for these apps keeps contacts from being able to constantly have access to a person’s location and can be an important aspect of safety in one’s day-to-day life.

Looking for More Info?

The US Department of Homeland Security has a podcast dedicated specifically to technology and safety. Check it out here.

STM Learning, Inc. takes pride in addressing a wide variety of health, maltreatment, abuse, and human rights concerns, including human trafficking. If this post has sparked your interest in learning more about how to identify and combat human trafficking, our most recent title, “Introduction to Forensic Nursing: Principles and Practice” contains a chapter on human trafficking, as do our forthcoming publications, “Mental Health Issues of Child Maltreatment: Contemporary Strategies” and “Gender-Based Violence Across the Continuum: Trauma-Informed Care”. For an even deeper dive into the topic, keep your eyes peeled for news on our book “Human Trafficking: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Prevention, Intervention, and Survival”, which is currently being developed.

This blog was written by STM Learning’s editorial staff for educational purposes only. It is not intended to give specific medical or legal advice. For expert information on the discussed subjects, please refer to STM Learning’s publications.


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