Survivors of sex trafficking and software engineers came together to design a solution.
With the sex trade expanding online and fewer touch points for advocates to offer help, we knew we needed to come up with an innovative way to reach those who are being bought and sold online.
Traditional models for sexual exploitation intervention have been reactive. Once trafficking or exploitation occurs, then a victim is referred to services. A victim may call a hotline after they have been exploited, hoping to get help.
We believe in a proactive approach: Freedom Signal allows advocates to directly reach those in the sex trade, offering help when someone posts an ad. No longer does a victim have to self-identify and search for help on their own; nor are victims dependent on getting a referral through the criminal justice system.
Originally called Project Intercept, our initial program created new ways for advocates to reach potential victims. Partnered with REST in Seattle, we launched a year long pilot to find out if direct outreach to online ads would help advocates get services into the hands of those in need.
For REST, the first year of proactive text based outreach involved sending out messages to 7,500 unique phone numbers and getting 400 responses. Of those 400 responses, over 40 engaged in exit services. Compared the 3 – 5 people accessing services via street outreach per year, the text based approach was ten times more effective at getting victims into services.
Now under the name Freedom Signal, we’ve been hard at work to improve the app and add new partnerships.
Freedom Signal is now coming into its fourth year of operation and we’ve expanded across North America. 2020 has brought even more urgency to our team as Covid-19 has forced all of us to look to innovative ways to connect in our communities and offer help to the most vulnerable.
We’ve added support for direct outreach to male and trans victims, smarter targeting for more efficient outreach, and refined tools that help keep teams organized as they do outreach.
As we look to the future, our team jokes about how the ideal world is one in which our jobs are no longer needed. Until that day, we hope you will join us in taking action to end sexual exploitation.