Ordinary travelers can help end human trafficking by simply taking a few pictures of their hotel room and uploading them onto the TraffickCam app.
The new app takes the images and compares them with images from a national database created by police. If there's a match, authorities know which hotel a particular operation is being run out of.
"You just enter your hotel room, and your room number," TraffickCam developer Abby Stylianou said, according to KTVI. "You take four pictures, and you submit them to the website. And then those become part of the pipeline that law enforcement can use to track down where the victims are being trafficked."
It's an ingenious way to combat the traffickers, who routinely post images of victims online.
"Right now there are pictures posted every day," Stylianou said at a Human Trafficking Town Hall June 21. "Hundreds of pictures, in every city around the United States, posted online, that show victims of trafficking, in hotel rooms posed on beds."
Users of the app have already uploaded more than 1.5 million images from hotels around the world, KTVI reports.
TraffickCam is the result of collaboration between researchers at Washington University (where Stylianou works) and the Exchange Initiative, a non-profit organization created by Nix Conference and Meeting Management.
The idea for the app came from a human trafficking case in which police asked Nix Conference personnel to help them identify a specific hotel.
"It was a photo that they had from the internet," Nix Principal Molly Hackett said. "One of the girls in our office knew exactly what it was."
Her staff now uses the app when they travel, and Hackett said she is encouraged by the fact that ordinary people can now join the fight against trafficking.
"It's great that everyday citizens can do everyday things by taking a picture to help stop sex trafficking," she said.
The FBI is also optimistic about the app's potential to curb trafficking.
"In this case, individual citizens who want to help stop sex trafficking but didn't know how, now have a tangible way to contribute," said William Woods of the FBI's St. Louis division, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
UNICEF estimates that roughly 300,000 American children are trafficked every year. The majority of victims are 12 to 14 years old when they are first brought into the industry.
The TraffickCam app is free and available for iPhone, iPad and Android.