KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A photo of your hotel room could help nab human traffickers over Memorial Day weekend.
Developers encourage people to download the free app, TraffickCam, and take pictures of the room they’re staying in this vacation season.
Since human traffickers often posts ads with their victims in hotel rooms, this app serves as a database for investigators to pinpoint where photos may be taken, basically comparing room to room.
“I ended up in Kansas City, Missouri, and I spent the next 17 years being bought and sold,” said trafficking survivor, Christine McDonald.
McDonald’s story is hard to hear.
“I remember standing on a corner of Independence Avenue and Spruce at a church praying for death,” McDonald said. “A guy pulls up broad daylight and says, ‘Get in,’ and I’m like, ‘Sure,’ and I get in and he assaults me and beats me, and it’s horrific.”
The mom said one day, she turned an attacker’s gun on them to free herself.
There are countless others still in situations like McDonald’s. Every year, thousands of cases will be reported to the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline.
Computer science professor Dr. Abby Stylianou of St. Louis University developed TraffickCam. She hopes it can help.
“Investigators take an image that’s part of a case, they remove the victim from that image and then they use our database essentially like google reverse image search,” Dr. Stylianou said.
“They would unload their picture; they get back a list of the most similar pictures, and from that, they can tell what hotel that picture was taken at.”
Those pictures go into a database, and with the help of artificial intelligence to sort through the millions of photos, it is easy for investigators to pull up pictures of specific rooms.
A new version of the app encourages people to take close-up pictures of unique features in a room, like a lamp or art, to further set it apart.
“My concern is that this fabulous tool is available, and it just won’t be utilized,” said Alison Phillips of the Human Trafficking Training Center.
Philips said only four percent of agencies in the U.S. have a dedicated human trafficking investigator.
“Until we give the resources to our law enforcement to get the training and dedicate people to follow-up and do investigations on human trafficking, our country will continue to not get the response we want,” Phillips said.
The Kansas City, Missouri Police Department tells FOX4 News its Vice Unit does use the app.
“I would endorse people utilizing this technology for this purpose,” said Rodney Hammer, president of Restoration House of Greater Kansas City.
“It not only could be of important use in identifying where trafficking may have occurred, but also engages the public in thinking about, preventing and being aware of the issue and ways they can help.”
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