January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. During the past year, the Obama Administration hosted events on combating human trafficking, bringing together leaders from every sector of society. In December, the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) hosted TechCamp Mexico, a two-day workshop that joined technologists with local and regional anti-trafficking non-governmental organization (NGO) leaders to apply technology solutions to some of the challenges that these organizations face in fighting modern slavery. TechCamp Mexico gathered over 80 participants in Tlaxcala, a region facing significant challenges in fighting the sex trafficking of women and girls.
TechCamp Mexico opened with an evening reception that included remarks by U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Anthony Wayne; Mexico National Commission for Human Rights President, Dr. Raul Plascencía; UNODC Regional Advisor Against Trafficking in Persons, Felipe de la Torre; and White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Representative, Vivian Graubard. The first official day of TechCamp provided opportunities for NGOs to learn about the types of technology -- including crowd-funding, data scraping, and digital security applications -- that may be helpful in enhancing their work to help and protect victims of trafficking. These technology discussions were followed by discussions about specific types of trafficking and the obstacles that many of these organizations face in fighting them. This is where I witnessed firsthand one of the important benefits of TechCamp -- providing a forum for anti-trafficking NGOs to convene, connect, and collaborate on best practices and ultimately build the capacity of NGOs working in the country through information-sharing. Many of these organizations face difficulties that are not unique to them and yet lack opportunity to network with fellow NGOs. TechCamp provides that opportunity.
The second day opened with a powerful testimony by Marcela, a trafficking survivor who was tricked in her home country of Colombia and transported to Japan where she was forced to work in commercial sex. Her open and honest account spoke powerfully to the need to increase our efforts not only to protect victims but also raise awareness to prevent this crime from happening. Marcela is now an anti-trafficking advocate living in the United States, and is an example of the importance of integrating survivor voices to inform the public and shape government anti-trafficking policy.
Much of the rest of the second day was devoted to brainstorming tech solutions to specific types of trafficking-related problems. Participants broke out into smaller groups to come up with low cost, easy-to-implement strategies and tools that will work right now and that are available in Mexico today. The spectrum of proposals ranged from telenovelas which raise public awareness to open data sharing which can map human trafficking hot spots and issues. Here, I experienced the uniqueness of TechCamp. Organizations represented by experts on trafficking-related subjects were able to take what they learned about technology and within 48 hours try to turn that knowledge into reality. This focus on practical solutions to real world problems empowers these NGOs to demystify the complexities of the tech world and reinforce the possibility that technology can in fact be harnessed to make an impact in the lives of trafficking victims in Mexico. It’s exciting to think of what kind of impact future TechCamps focused on fighting human trafficking will have in additional countries around the world. TechCamp not only brings the power of tech within reach of anti-trafficking NGOs but also is a small but significant step in reaching our ultimate goal, a world without slavery.
About the Author: Abraham Lee serves in the State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.
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