We all remember the “never walk anywhere on campus or around campus by yourself” speech, right? It should definitely ring some sort of bell because each year Xavier University Police Department officers and XU housing directors host a mandatory meeting explaining the dangers of being a young woman in the city of New Orleans, La.

But there’s more to New Orleans than its abounding culture and stellar nightlife. New Orleans is a booming tourist destination— and a major hub for human trafficking. The U.S. Department of Justice ranks NOLA at #11 on its list of human trafficking hotspots.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security defines human trafficking as “the action or practice of illegally transporting people from one country or area to another, typically for the purposes of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation.”

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime explains that there are three main elements to trafficking: the act (what is done to recruit, transport, transfer, harbor or receive human beings), the means (how it is done using threats of or actual violence, force, coercion, abduction, buying, exploiting vulnerable human beings), and the purpose of “exploitation, which includes exploiting the prostitution of others, sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery or similar practices and the removal of organs.”

In 2015, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center was notified of 5,973 cases of human trafficking and of those, 4,142 were sex related (polarisproject.org). In 2015, Louisiana, tallied 244 documented cases of human trafficking, with 47 of those in New Orleans, according to the Louisiana Department of Social Services.

TraffickCam app developed

To reduce these astounding numbers, researchers from Washington University in St. Louis and representatives from the Exchange Initiative, an organization committed to combating commercial
sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) and to providing resources, information and networking solutions to combat sex trafficking in the United States, created the TraffickCam application.
The TraffickCam app enables anyone to combat sex trafficking with just the touch of a button.

Since traffickers regularly post photographs of their victims posed in hotel rooms for online advertisements, the Traffickcam app works to identify these rooms, so these photographs can be used as evidence to find and prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes. In order to use these photos, however, investigators must be able to determine where the photos were taken.

And this is where the Traffickcam app comes into play.

The purpose of TraffickCam is to create a database of hotel room images that an investigator can efficiently search, in order to find other images that were taken in the same location as an image that is part of an investigation, according to traffickcam.com.

Here at Xavier University, Sister Barbara Hughes, a beloved professor in the history department, learned about the TraffickCam app from Kimberly Ritter, a senior account manager of the
Nix Meeting and Management Company. Hughes then introduced me to the app, which led to this story.

For years, Ritter has personally made sure that the hotels her company hosts events at are trafficker-free and signed onto ECPAT (End Child Prostitution and Trafficking) USA. Her national connections linked her with the students from Washington University in St. Louis, who were in the process of making a database that could be open to the general public. Their interactions led to the creation of the TraffickCam app.

Hughes is a member of the Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, which uses Nix Meeting and Management Company to organize their conferences. Sister Barbara was one of the first to hear that the application was finally finished with beta testing and was now available to the public.

“Since New Orleans is often a center for trafficking, I felt that thousands of students downloading a simple app could easily bring down this growing evil and raise awareness of its presence in our communities,” Hughes said.

Kristina Hicks, a sophomore here at Xavier, downloaded the application because anything could happen.

“There have been plenty of times that I’ve lost sight of my friends in the French Quarter and had a random guy slide up beside me offering a drink,” Hicks said. “I know not to take that drink, but some people don’t and are taken [kidnapped] as a result. If it were me, I’d be grateful that there was something out there that made it easier to find me and lock my captors up.”

Gabrielle Gaston, a junior at Xavier, downloaded the application because “it’s a way to take an active part in combatting trafficking without any real complications. It’s basically an easy way to save lives,” she said.

If you are interested in taking a stand against trafficking, simply search TraffickCam in the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store and it will be the first application on the page. After downloading and installing the app, open it. The application will open to a page where you can enter the name of the hotel you are staying at and the room number. Under these entries there will be four camera icons. You can submit your photos by tapping on those icons and if you are not sure of what pictures to take, the application explains what would be the best angles to shoot.

After uploading the pictures, you will submit images and there you have it. Your photos have been catalogued into a database to help investigators link rooms to sex trafficking ads. The app is
free so anyone can download it and is compatible for most mobile devices including iPad, and iPod touch.

You can always upload photos onto the Traffickcam website, traffickcam. com and can also learn more about the Exchange Initiative on their website, exchangeinitiative.com.

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