Those working with the new tools hope the software can help with that problem, too, by allowing groups to test different messages and approaches at large scale, and gauge which are most effective.“The hope is to get this activity down and protect a lot of people,” says Beiser.The National Human Trafficking Hotline received more than 5,000 reports of sex trafficking in 2016, but most cases are believed to go unreported.
The chatbot, tested recently in Seattle, Atlanta, and Washington, lurks behind fake online ads for sex posted by nonprofits working to combat human trafficking, and responds to text messages sent to the number listed.
The software initially pretends to be the person in the ad, and can converse about its purported age, body, fetish services, and pricing.
Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, director of Arizona State University’s Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research, says they could help expand the reach of anti-trafficking efforts.
Research in Phoenix has shown that on average a single online sex ad attracts 63 potential buyers.
But if a would-be buyer signals an intent to purchase sex, the bot pivots sharply into a stern message.“Buying sex from anyone is illegal and can cause serious long term harm to the victim, as well as further the cycle of human trafficking,” goes one such message.