The Fight For All Children Needs You

.jpg photo of Child Sex Trafficking graphic
The internet has created a lawless space for predators to buy and sell people.

How tech companies are trying to
combat trafficking

Sex trafficking and human slavery are certainly nothing new, but the internet has created a lawless space for predators to buy and sell people.  Today, more than 150,000 escort ads are posted in the US every day, many of them for children.  The human trafficking industry enslaves an estimated 27 million people worldwide.

Now, an organization is turning to the very features of the internet that make trafficking so widespread to combat it.  Thorn partners with technology companies like Google, Pinterest, Facebook and others to help identify and rescue children, and possibly catch predators.

Last month, a video of Thorn founder Ashton Kutcher went viral when he gave very personal testimony to the US Senate on the tragedy of child trafficking.  Earlier this year, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee sponsored a bill that eventually became a law to direct $50 million in federal money annually to combat sex trafficking and human slavery in the US.

Following Kutcher’s Senate speech in February, the White House – led by Ivanka Trump – invited a number of anti-trafficking groups in to discuss what can be done.  Policy proposals may follow.
Traditionally, law enforcement efforts to combat trafficking have been insufficient, given the fluid nature, anonymity and enormous reach of the internet.  Thorn’s approach is interesting because it creates tech tools specifically geared to helping the authorities.

In 2011, law enforcement officials in the US turned 22 million images and videos of child abuse over to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to identify the victims, according to the center’s US Sentencing Commission testimony cited by Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times.  In the US alone, 9 million computer IP addresses were tracked sharing child pornography files.  The sheer volume of victims and perpetrators is overwhelming for law enforcement.

Child abuse images are often traded on peer-to-peer networks or inside password-protected chat rooms.  Most buying and selling of sex occurs online, on listings sites like Backpage or Craigslist – where escort ads are posted, and customers text in to make contact.  That’s not illegal.  The challenge for law enforcement is that many of those featured in the ads may be underage girls who are trafficked – mixed in with women posting ads voluntarily.

“These transactions don’t happen in the open,” says Julie Cordua, CEO of Thorn.  “I can go on to and put my couch up for sale and if I click the next tab I can buy a 14-year-old for sex, and this is not illegal, because an escort is not illegal.  Every day, hundreds of thousands of ads are posted, and some are children, but how do we know?  It’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack.”

Innovations in tech and data science can make that process more efficient.

Thorn is using machine learning, in which computers learn what advertisements represent a child, and create an algorithm to predict what other ads are more likely to be associated with a child.  That, they hope, can reduce the thousands of images of children in circulation.

They’re also using facial recognition software that recognizes signs of aging and can identify children from photos.  They are working with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s database of missing children that could be matched to images from online ads.  This helps detectives in tracking down and identifying children.

There is also a new texting application called Befreetexting designed to reach trafficked children who have sporadic access to cellphones.  “These kids are held kind of captive, so they can’t pick up a phone, but they can text, and so we can create a text hotline,” Cordua says.

By sorting through the images to identify which are children, law enforcement can hone in on victims.  The goal is to get to children as quickly as possible.  That’s just one side of the problem.  Creating technology to go after the predators, either the customer or the pimp, has proven more difficult.

TX Hospital Hosting Child Abuse Summit

.jpg photo of Covenant Children's Hospital
“We have a moral and civic duty to protect children, as they cannot protect themselves”

Covenant Children’s Hosting Child Abuse
Summit on March 24

LUBBOCK, TX  –  Lubbock County communities experience an unusually high rate of confirmed cases of child abuse and neglect.

The last five years of data from the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), 2010-2015, reflected an average of 18.5 children for every 1,000 children as confirmed victims, against a state rate of occurrence averaging 9.2 children for every 1,000.

Lubbock County has recorded seven child fatalities due to abuse and neglect in the last five years of available data.  An average of three children per day were confirmed victims of abuse and neglect in Lubbock County in 2015, with the majority of victims under the age of three.

Covenant Children’s is hosting a summit to raise awareness around child abuse and enhance the skills of health care professionals and the general community around prevention, investigation, and treatment of abuse in children.

The event is 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 24 in the Arnett Room, on the 6th floor of Covenant Children’s, 4000 24th St, Lubbock Texas.

“We have a moral and civic duty to protect children, as they cannot protect themselves,” said Marguerite Fallon, Covenant Children’s chief nursing officer.  “This conference will provide both educational information and practical guidance on a wide range of topics such as criminal prosecution of child abuse, early recognition of non-accidental trauma, and insights from a survivor, among others.

“While the summit’s primary audience is health care workers such as physicians, nurses and social workers in the field of emergency medicine, family practice, pediatrics and all pediatric specialties, we have designed the first half of the day to be tailored more toward general child abuse topics of interest to both the general public and health care providers.  The second half of the day focuses on information for health care providers.  We encourage anyone interested in child abuse prevention and intervention to attend,” she said.

At the conclusion of the day’s series of workshops, participants will be able to:

  • Recognize the role shame plays in the child sexual abuse victim (and its impact on disclosures, reports and prevention)
  • Define and clarify the role of health care professionals and social service agencies in investigations and prosecutions
  • Recognize a clear operational definition of “trauma-informed care” and common traps that are the opposite
  • Determine common reactions to vicarious trauma and identify a system to address the impacts of vicarious trauma
  • Discuss potential child abuse cases and determine next steps
  • Identify the risk factors for abuse, symptoms that could indicate such, and priorities in caring for abuse
  • The conference’s opening will feature national guest speaker Jenna Quinn, a survivor, and author of “Pure in Heart: A Memoir of Overcoming Abuse and Passing Jenna’s Law” for whom measure was named and passed by the Texas Legislature in 2009.
  • There also will be a mayor’s proclamation for Go Blue Lubbock.

Registration fee is $50 for licensed medical professionals and $25 for non-licensed medical professionals and students, with all fees paid at the door.  To register, email or visit the website.


  • 7 – 8 a.m. | Registration and Breakfast
  • 8 – 8:15 a.m. | Welcome, Mayor Dan Pope
  • 8:15 – 9:45 a.m. | Matt Powell, Lubbock County district attorney, “Criminal Prosecution of Child Abuse”
  • 9:45 – 10 a.m. | Break
  • 10 -11:30 a.m. | Jenna Quinn, “Pure in Heart: Insights from a Survivor of Child Abuse”
  • 11:30 a.m – 12:30 p.m. | Michael Gomez, MD, “Trauma-informed Care and Vicarious Trauma”
  • 12:30 – 1:30 p.m. | Lunch
  • 1:30 – 3 p.m. | Case discussions with panel review
  • 3 – 4 p.m. | Belinda Waters, RN, “Early Recognition of Non-accidental Trauma”
  • 4 p.m. | Closing Remarks and Evaluations

About Covenant Health

Covenant Health has served for almost 100 years as the only faith-based integrated health network in the West Texas, eastern New Mexico region providing a Christian healing ministry.

Covenant’s network includes six hospitals, more than 1,000 licensed beds, more than 5,000 employees, 97 primary care providers, a medical staff of more than 600 physicians at its cornerstone facilities, and a regionally based health plan  –  FirstCare  –  offering high-quality affordable healthcare coverage.

To learn more about Covenant Health, please visit