Technology is one of the defining aspects of the 21st century.

Mobile phones, in particular, are a hot item—each smart phone becoming practically obsolete in a matter of months, if not days. For most of us, we see this technology as simplifying our lives and helping us become more efficient and more organized.However, many people are unaware of the connection between this advanced technology and human trafficking in the United States. Researchers at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy published a study in November 2012 discussing this very topic. They came to the conclusion that the rapidly advancing technology has ramifications that extend to not only human traffickers but also to law enforcement agencies focused on anti-trafficking initiatives.

The study states that “increasingly, the business of human trafficking is taking place online and over mobile phones. But the same technologies that are being used for trafficking can become a powerful tool to combat trafficking.” Why is mobile technology so powerful and how are traffickers using it? The key is in the ability “to facilitate real-time communication and coordination, unbound by physical location.”Essentially, traffickers now have greater ease in communicating with each other to organize the moving, abduction, or exploitation of victims. They can use this technology to find more consumers across larger regions with increased efficiency and speed.

Nonetheless, this same technology is a step forward for law enforcement and the anti-trafficking community. It offers greater opportunities for collecting evidence and tracing suspected traffickers. Law enforcement agencies can collect cell phone and network data that may provide “a trail of information and evidence that can be a powerful tool in identifying, tracking, and prosecuting traffickers.”

Mobile technology can also make it easier to spread awareness about the prevalence and dangers of human trafficking to the public; this is especially important because it allows greater reach into communities who may be vulnerable to trafficking, which is essential for prevention initiatives.

As traffickers utilize mobile technology to expand their business, law enforcement agencies must employ the same technology to work against this illicit industry. The USC researchers urge the anti-trafficking community (activists, policymakers, law enforcement, and concerned individuals) to consider these developments carefully as they formulate and implement anti-trafficking strategies.

You can read the whole study, “The Rise of Mobile and the Diffusion of Technology-Facilitated Trafficking,” here.