BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — 70% of human trafficking begins online. CBS 42 Morning News anchor Alissa Rothermich found when it comes to victims, trafficking often starts with one of the most commonly used social media apps.
The number of ads for sex in a given year in Alabama is 641,000, according to the University of Alabama. As the internet has become more widely available, the business of trafficking has gone from the corners of city streets to being accessible anywhere.
“Just about every type of human trafficking that exists throughout the world is happening to some degree in our state,” said Chris Lim, a professor at the University of Alabama.
Lim’s department researches sex trafficking and it’s a shift from a traditional in-person arrangement to an online establishment.
“It’s more mobile if you will. They can take the victim to any community and pop up an ad in the local community. another reason is it’s safer for them,” Lim said.
The website Backpage used to be a hot spot for sex ads. The federal government shut the site down in 2018, and now dozens of other sites have popped up in its place.
But the ease of internet advertising isn’t the only trafficking danger that lurks online. Those who work with victims say traffickers use social media as a place to prey on unsuspecting victims.
“I’ve seen several young ladies who were beginning to get caught or were fully caught in this from really well established, healthy families from right here over the mountain,” said Melea Stephens of Rescue Innocence.
Stephens is part of a group pushing a resolution in the US House of Representatives to require apps be regulated and rated like movies.
Right now, ratings for apps are assigned by the app creators. This means those potentially dangerous for young adults could be labeled as age-appropriate. This includes one found on most teens’ smartphones.
“When it comes to children we find that Instagram is the main access point for traffickers to groom young, underage minors for trafficking,” Stephens said.
Traffickers also use messaging on Facebook and Youtube. Several of the experts CBS 42 talked to agreed that if a child has an online presence of any kind, they have likely been seen by a child predator at least once and it’s important to guard their online activity.
“This is something that requires everybody to work together collaboratively in order to effectively address the issue,” Lim said.
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