The ability to silently send a text message seeking help can mean the difference between a life of exploitation and freedom for many survivors. Knowing the dangers trafficking victims face, three years ago this week, Polaris launched the BeFree Textline, providing yet another lifeline for trafficking victims.
Traffickers often control the movements of their victims, restricting their access to the outside world so that they cannot escape. While victims may not be able to call for help, texting is a much more discreet way to reach out.
How did it start?
In early 2013, Polaris and Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children worked with leaders in the cloud computing industry to develop an SMS-based hotline for victims and survivors of human trafficking and at-risk populations.
Communications developer Twilio provided the BeFree Texting short code and technology to deliver the text messages, which are integrated into Polaris’s national hotline database, powered by Salesforce.com. The BeFree Textline launched on March 28, 2013 with the goal of providing safe, secure, and confidential access to critical services and support entirely via SMS text message.
Has it worked?
Yes! Here’s what we know:
Since launching in 2013, we’ve received 3,282 texts and learned of 388 cases of trafficking through the BeFree Textline.
In 2015, we learned of 177 cases of human trafficking.
24% more survivors reached out to the BeFree Textline and NHTRC hotline for help over 2014.
23% of texting conversations on the textline were from survivors of human trafficking—compared to 11% of phone calls on the NHTRC hotline.
Texting is especially effective for reaching female victims of sex trafficking. Of the 177 cases we learned about through BeFree last year, 84% referenced sex trafficking. 82% referenced women.
Texting will continue to grow. Since launching the Textline in 2013, we’ve learned about more cases of human trafficking every year. Not only that, but the volume of texts we’ve received has increased every year as well.
You can read more statistics from the BeFree Textline here.
We’re continuing to build out the BeFree Textline so that we can reach more survivors. But right now, we don’t have enough funding to operate the BeFree Textline 24/7. You can donate to us so that we can ensure that the Textline is at full capacity.
Photo credit: Flickr / Jhaymesisvip