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Technology could fuel sex trafficking, says survivor and activist

Ritu Jha-

Tech companies should do their part to prevent sex trafficking on their platforms, says Dr Sunitha Krishnan[Above center]founder of Prajwala, an NGO that rescues and reintegrates victims of sex trafficking into society.

Krishnan was speaking last month at Home of Hope, a Silicon Valley-based nonprofit that has long supported Prajwala. His statement came during a conversation with Shailaja Dixit, director of Narika, about Krishnan's autobiography titled 'I Am What I Am'. In it, she recounts her experiences as a survivor, fighter, and crusader.

Krishnan, a Padma Shri award winner based in India, was recognized as one of 150 “fearless women in the world” by Newsweek.

When indica When asked if technology could help her in her work, Krishnan said she was more concerned about it being used to fuel sex trafficking across the world.

“Predators, offenders and bad guys are using technology in radically new ways, especially post-pandemic,” she said. “They use it widely to commit crimes, while awareness about it is still much less. Potential victims are still unaware of the dangers they face [and] the protocols needed to keep them safe are not yet popular. Predators are a hundred steps ahead of us; we are still at the first stage. This difference in pace makes the problem even worse because, by the time you realize it, the problem will have gotten worse.

On the actual use of technology to combat the problem, Krishnan said, “If you don't design technology properly, it can be misused and a boon can become a bane. If tech companies don't design the technology to minimize the opportunity for misuse by a criminal, then they become enablers. If you deny it, it’s a double-edged sword: you become a puppet accomplice to crime.”

The solution was not to ban the technology but to make it difficult to subvert it.

“If you're so smart to create technology, then you also have to be smart enough to understand how it can be misused,” Krishnan said. “Do it in a way that minimizes the risk of misuse. While expanding their business base, these companies are not bothered by the number of fake profiles created. They are doing nothing to curb this. In fact, they allow these attackers to enter the space anonymously. I understand that they have their business interests, but ethical business standards cannot be ignored.

That's why Prajwala relies less on technology and more on promoting regulations that make technology safer.

“Tech companies must treat all technology-related crimes as their number one priority,” Krishnan said. “A country like India receives thousands of complaints, but technology companies do not have the means to respond to these complaints and help law enforcement. When a technology company recognizes the problem, then it will need to change the way it operates.

Krishnan helped the Indian government develop its first-ever anti-trafficking policy, a policy on minimum standards of care, a sex offender registry, and relying on video conferencing to record evidence of trafficking victims. She has helped produce training manuals and manuals on human trafficking for magistrates, prosecutors, law enforcement and others. It has been recognized by governments around the world, including the United States, Germany and France.

Krishnan also led the first-ever survivor-led campaign, Swaraksha against human trafficking, which reached over a million people, and launched the Men Against Demand campaign, using the slogan “Real men n 'don't buy sex'. This affected 1.8 billion people worldwide.

Rita Sharma[Above left]said the president of Home of Hope indica that hosting Krishnan and, by extension, Prajwala, was a privilege.

“We have supported his project and his work for many years now,” Sharma said. “Her book is being published and we wanted to allow her to collaborate with Art Forum SF and Home of Hope so people can hear about her journey. Home of Hope has several ongoing projects for students, such as job training and vocational training, depending on the child's academic aptitude. She explained how Home for Hope also runs mental health programs.

“Just like Prajwala, here too there are people who come from horrible backgrounds,” Sharma said. “We also have projects that help blind children, autistic children and children from slums. We are partners in numerous projects in India, notably in Prajwala in Hyderabad.

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