BEND, OR -- Students from MIT are in Bend, this weekend, to try and develop ways to combat human trafficking. They were invited to take part in a "hackathon" hosted by Guardian Group, a Bend-based nonprofit working to end sex trafficking in the U.S.
Jeff Tiegs, with Guardian Group, says these young tech experts could be the key to unraveling the online world that allows human trafficking to thrive. "We work closely with MIT, with Harvard, with Wharton and with Stanford; so, those are some heavy hitters. There’s a lot of young talent out there that we’re trying to help them understand this problem and find new, innovative solutions."
He tells KBND News fighting these unique crimes require a new approach, "Unlike most crimes, it’s advertised all over social media. If you look at some of these traffickers social media accounts – from their Facebook to their Twitter, to their Instagram, to their SnapChat, to their multiple different dating websites, they are very open and public about who they are and what they’re doing. Those are public sites where people go and there’s an exchange of information and there’s an exchange of data." But, law enforcement often can't track that data in the real world without real names. "If an escort’s name is ‘Candy’ and her pimp’s name is ‘Daddy Mac,’ we don’t know who that is; law enforcement can’t do anything with that information. That’s how they’re known all over the internet. But, once you’re able to get some true identities and anchor this in the real world, now law enforcement can begin investigations and unraveling what this network looks like and what this crime – where it geographically sits."
The weekend-long event begins Friday. Guardian Group and the MIT students will also host several public events. Public presentations take place Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:30 p.m. at OSU-Cascades. Then, Sunday evening, they'll host a strategy session at the Deschutes Brewery Tap Room with other local businesses and organizations, like OSU and COCC, 6-8 p.m.
Guardian Group has been invited to Harvard and the Wharton School of Business at the Univ. of Pennsylvania to present their work at two conferences, later this year.