The Influence of Technological Advancement on Human Trafficking: Challenges and Opportunities

Is it true that human traffickers are tech-savvies, intelligent, quite ahead and sophisticated in ways anti-traffickers cannot comprehend let alone match up or outwit them? Well, this is debatable but one thing is for sure, even though it is not easy to quantify the magnitude of online human trafficking, it is undeniable that online exploitation of victims of trafficking is prevalent and is a brutal reality. Technology has been abused by traffickers and those working against human trafficking have not embraced technology as much to counter the vice.

Technological advancement is one of the most progressive innovations in the human history that has remarkably transformed how the world operates. Changes at the apex of this advancement include; value systems, cultural setups, means of communication, the travel industry, the healthcare sector, the corporate world  and the education system.

Even though the intention behind technological advancement was to make life convenient for the ordinary human being, it has come along with unprecedented negative consequences over time. Cyber crimes including child pornography, cyber bullying, cyber stalking, cyber grooming, online job fraud, online sextortion, phishing and vishing are currently on the rise exacerbated further by massive use of the internet during the COVID-19. This said, technological advancement is a double edged sword; presenting both challenges and opportunities in the whole phenomenon of human trafficking..

Traffickers harness technology through out the human trafficking stages; from recruitment, grooming, movement, control advertising and exploitation for a couple of reasons. They use technology to hide their identities and increase anonymity online; the perpetrator communicate through encrypted app/dark web to coordinate their activities. Traffickers use cryptocurrency to engage in money laundry, conduct financial transactions and move criminal proceeds anonymously.

Technology is used by traffickers to facilitate recruitment and exploitation of victims; through the internet traffickers are able to target potential victims, access personal data, recruit through social media and arrange travel logistics. According to a 2018 UNODC global report on trafficking in persons, perpetrators sequence their actions by identifying potential victims on social media establishing a relationship of trust and subsequently entrapping them in exploitative situations.

Traffickers use technology to access new venues and expanding the market. The internet helps traffickers to advertise fraudulent opportunities to potential victims and access a large market. Traffickers use the internet to advertise the services offered by their victims to potential customers/end users. Europol notes that the online advertisement of sexual services is an increasing phenomenon relating to human trafficking for sexual exploitation with children being advertised as adults.

The internet has made it possible for traffickers to expand the means victims by which they control and exploit their victims. Certain technologies help traffickers to control and coerce their victims. The technology includes using GPS software in phones to track the movements of victims or in domestic servitude and other forms of labour exploitation monitor and control victims through video surveillance. In sexual exploitation threats to share nude images are used to control victims.

Certain factors enable the misuse of technology by traffickers. First is insufficient legal frameworks which do not avail the necessary tools to aid successful  investigations and prosecution to online crimes and human trafficking. Second is the transnational nature of the internet facilitated human trafficking has introduced new challenges with respect to jurisdiction. Third is weak cooperation among national and international institutions and the private sector which impedes opportunities to promptly utilize innovative approaches embraced by traffickers and hampers full utilization of resources and expertise available in different sectors. Fourth is lack of capacity, awareness and expertise of law enforcement, prosecutors and the judiciary due to among other factors; the complex and dynamic nature of ICT facilitated trafficking. And lastly, limited technological tools as well as capacity to anti-trafficking practitioners.

Positive Use of Technology to Counter Human Trafficking  

Governments, NGOs, international organizations, the private sector and the corporate world have a wide range of technological tools within their reach to buffer their anti-trafficking endeavor. A number of interventions have already been launched and are in use to counter human trafficking. For example Tech Against Trafficking a coalition of technology companies working to combat human trafficking has survey more than 260 technology tools to aid anti trafficking work. More than half of this tools focus on labour exploitation while 18% focus on sexual exploitation. This tools consist mainly of mobile apps, social media handles and databases.

In a recent issue by freedom collaborative a digital game-May and Bay- has been innovated by the University of Kent’s Centre for Child Protection (CCP) with A21, ECPAT International and Playerthree. The game is set to help children and young people across Thailand and Cambodia learn to spot signs of online grooming and recognize the tactics that abusers and traffickers employ. The game is intended to alert children to the dangers of online interactions in Thailand and Cambodia. The game aims to empower young people and provide training for child protection practitioners.

The internet can be a vital tool for detecting, locating and addressing human trafficking. For instance, activities like data mining, mapping and advanced analytics can be valuable weapons against human trafficking. Research shows that online traffickers leave a trail that if followed up by those working against trafficking could avail vital information to build up their cases against the traffickers. 

Since it has a wider audience, avenues for instance, social media could be leveraged to create awareness on the horrifying crime of human trafficking. Highlighting the redflags to look out for, the modus operandi i.e what is done, how it is done and why it is done. Through information, traffickers activities will be crippled. The internet could also be used to generate and offer services for he victims of human trafficking.


As the world commemorates the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, it is incumbent upon governments, civil societies, businesses, academia and the international community to adapt to the rapid dynamic realm of technological advancement by leveraging it in order to outwit human traffickers. Technology will assist the law enforcement to provide substantial evidence to aid in the prosecution of victims. Collaboration and concerted effort are crucial now more that ever before to counter human trafficking.





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