National Human Trafficking Hotline

Put the National Human Trafficking Hotline on Backpage

Warning: this post deals with modern slavery, specifically the sex trafficking of minors.  This topic is not a comfortable one.  Although I will treat the issue respectfully, the nature of the issue is troubling.

Note: this post is created for the USAID Challenge Slavery competition.  If you like my idea, vote for me here between February 1 and 15.

Before You Go Ballistic

I am perfectly aware that many argue that the best solution to fight sex trafficking is to shut down adult ad sections of websites entirely.  I addressed this issue at another blog post here.  I encourage you to check that out and leave me any comments or email me if you think I should add or change anything to my arguments.

I am also aware that many argue that “adult” services is inherently immoral and not ok for anyone of any age.  I might address that issue at a future time.

My proposal, however, does not address either of these issues.  This is a proposal to make the best of the current situation.  Since I see no sign of adult services ads going away anytime soon (from Backpage or from any other website,) I am using this proposal to advocate garnering the most value possible from our present, hairy situation.

Proposal: Get the National Human Trafficking Hotline Posted on Adult-Ad Sites (like

NHTRC Hotline number
The National Human Trafficking Hotline
Run by Polaris Project

Simply put, my proposal is to get the National Human Trafficking Hotline posted on websites that facilitate adult ads (such as

Here’s why I think this will be a good idea:

  1. The potential to reduce the amount of instances of human trafficking
  2. The low risk to websites that house adult ads
I think point 1 is important because I believe the efficacy and impact of anti-human trafficking initiatives should be measured by the amount of actual instances of human trafficking they reduce.  This is hard to measure, but to me, it’s the true goal.
I think point 2 is important because the websites are probably the most powerful gatekeepers when it comes to getting any anti-human trafficking initiatives implemented that affect them.  If the idea is a high risk to the company, the feasibility of accomplishing the initiative drastically plummets.
The remainder of the post will go into detail on why I think points 1 and 2 are true, followed by remarks on why the current listing is insufficient.

Potential to Reduce Instances of Human Trafficking

I think this idea will reduce instances of human trafficking because
  1. It will effect changes in “Johns”
  2. It will effect changes in NGO’s fighting slavery
  3. It deals with the current situation pragmatically
1.  Although it is easy to take a dichotomous viewpoint on the issue of trafficking–believing that purchasers of commercial sex want it in the most horrible ways possible and non-purchasers are against commercial sex–this view simply is not true.  Although the purchasing of commercial sex is morally questionable, this does not mean that purchasers have cast aside every ounce of their morality.
Because even purchasers of commercial sex maintain some level of conscious, they can still be allies in the fight against human trafficking.  The CNN Freedom Project published a story about a “John School” for people arrested on charges of purchasing sex.  The report mentioned “Johns” who brought suspected trafficking victims to police stations for help instead of taking advantage of the situation.  You can find the story here.
This is just one piece of evidence that increasing awareness among purchasers of commercial sex could be a benefit to fighting sex trafficking.  As more become aware, fewer will take advantage of situations they suspect may involve victims of human trafficking, and more “Johns” will choose to call the cases in.
Framework for impact of an initiative for putting the National Human Trafficking Hotline on Backpage

The impact of an initiative to end slavery is driven by the amount of effort put into the initiative, and the efficacy of the initiative.  Effort put into an initiative is driven by the amount of people putting effort into it, multiplied by the amount of effort each person puts into it.  Efficacy can be measured by the amount of success divided by the amount of effort put into it.

Seeking to end sex slavery by posting the number will greatly increase the amount of effort committed to the issue by drastically increasing the volume of people working on the issue, regardless of the fact that very little effort will be put in by any individual “John.”
Posting the hotline number will be effective since the little effort required by “Johns,” NGO’s, and Backpage alike has potential to substantially increase the number of slaves freed.  The potential ratio of reductions in slavery to effort required is relatively small compared to most anti-trafficking measures.
2.  This can effect vital changes in many NGO’s, most specifically
  1. Polaris Project (the organization that runs the national hotline)
  2. Aftercare NGO’s

Polaris Project logo1.  Polaris Project will feel the effects most severely in its hotline.  As more call the hotline, other things will become available:

  • More information from the increase in the amount of calls
  • More success stories as a result of having more crisis calls
  • More publicity as people see the number on the webpages and success stories are used
  • More credibility as more use, see, and learn about the hotline
  • More support as donors and politicians see the increased impact of the hotline
  • More opportunities to expand to other countries as all the above points contribute to the hotline’s influence

Any opportunity to spread knowledge about and use of the hotline will break down barriers to fighting human trafficking.  This solution will have positive effects that do not stop at backpage, but that can carry across borders and oceans.

2.  As more crisis calls come in, more victims will be in need of aftercare.  Providers of aftercare will feel several significant effects:

  • More clients as the amount of legitimate crisis calls increase
  • More political recognition as the demand for aftercare services becomes more widespread
  • More public recognition as the dearth between adequate care and the need surface
  • More support as donors and politicians see the increase in need and potential impact
As more victims are found, the size of the problem will increasingly come to the public’s attention.
3.  Posting the hotline number on adult-ad webpages deals with our current situation instead of an idealized one.  This is because
  1. Backpage and other adult-ad services are not going to shut down anytime soon
  2. Demand for commercial sex will still exist
1.  Backpage is a business that seeks to maximize shareholder wealth just like any other business.  Since it shows no signs of making its website cleaner as a part of its strategy, we should assume that the adult ads are going to stay for some significant period of time.
It may be good to continue the fight to shut the adult ads down entirely, but until they go down, we need to make the best of our current situation.
Backpage also claims to be an ally in the fight against trafficking.  You can see one of their attorneys write about that here.  This provides Backpage (and other sites) an opportunity to make a low-risk contribution to the fight against human trafficking, and reassert their stance as an ally in the cause.  More on the risks to Backpage below.
2.  Whether we like it or not, the demand for commercial sex will still exist.  Shutting down webpages that facilitate the buying and selling of commercial sex will not significantly change that.  Demand simply is not driven by the existence or absence of adult ads.  Neither is supply driven by the existence or absence of adult ads.

Many are trying to find ways to reduce the demand for commercial sex, but this proposal does not claim to address that side of the issue.  What we are dealing with now is a significant demand for commercial sex that will not simply leave if a webpage is shut down.

Low Risks to Webpages with Adult Oriented Ads

Companies are designed to maximize the wealth of the owners, which is most frequently done by maximizing company profits.  Profits is made of a company’s revenues minus its expenses.  This proposal is good because

  1. It is a relatively low-cost solution
  2. It will not negatively affect revenue streams
Backpage logo1.  The primary costs for the webpages that implement this initiative will consist of the time paid to software coders to put in the hotline and possibly a fee to Polaris Project for use of the number.
Polaris Project may not choose to charge a fee either, since I don’t believe it has for any other instance of publicizing the number.  I just thought it might be a good chance for a company riddled with negative publicity to try cleaning it up by contributing to the host anti-trafficking organization.
2.  This initiative will not negatively affect the revenue streams since the demand will not leave when they see the hotline there, and suppliers of commercial sex will not (at least initially) take it seriously.  Suppliers of commercial sex may take the hotline more seriously if it starts making a big impact in their ability to traffic others.  If this happens, and the revenues of Backpage and similar sites suffers as a result of this initiative, I’m afraid I have no ideas for consolation beyond saying “good job!  You made a significant enough impact in fighting human trafficking that traffickers took notice of you.”
After all, any ally in the fight against human trafficking would wear such a sacrifice as a badge of honor and a sign of victory.

Why the Current Posting is Insufficient

Backpage currently does have the human trafficking hotline listed with several other hotlines on a link available when a visitor first tries to enter adult ads on the site.

Before you enter the adult ads section of the site, it displays a warning that the following pages contain sexual content, along with several terms and conditions that users must agree to in order to enter the site.  Among those conditions is an agreement to report suspected instances of human trafficking or sexual exploitation of minors.  The words are hyperlinked to a small page displaying several hotline numbers.

This listing is insufficient because

  1. The listing is virtually invisible at its current location
  2. The listing is no longer available after entering the site
1.  Users of the site are highly unlikely to ever see, use, or take the number seriously as it stands.  The number is buried under an obscure, text-based hyperlink that is buried in a “terms and agreements” page that are seldom read on any website.  This is not a serious approach to combating human trafficking.
With internet bandwidth and speed capabilities continually expanding, images and video have become the standard in browsing.  As a website that advertises having graphic based ads, the listing of the number should at least be accompanied by the hotline graphic (which I included earlier in this post.)
2.  Besides the number being poorly represented in its current placement, the number is also placed in the wrong part of the website.  The hotline number should be a part of all adult webpages if Backpage (and other websites) want to have any reasonable claim to being an ally in the fight against human trafficking.
Even if a user suspects an instance of sexual exploitation of a minor, the cost of going back through other webpages to try to find the number where it stands now is too high for such a serious issue.  The number needs to be readily available at every location that may help agitate the problem.

Concluding Remarks

Human trafficking, in my opinion, is either the worst problem, or the ugliest manifestation of our problems, that we have in the world today.  Any way to reduce actual instances of human trafficking–not just act symbolically against human trafficking–deserves due diligence to glean all potential benefit.  People are too important to leave in this situation.

Some of you may not know anything about modern slavery, and somehow read this entire blog post anyway.  If you are one of those people, I recommend checking out the following sites:

There are hundreds of organizations fighting slavery, but those are a few of my favorites.

I invite you to offer me corrections and suggestions by leaving me a comment below, or emailing me at

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