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Human Traffickers Are Using Emojis as Code to Sell Children

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The crime is unthinkable. Sex trafficking is a horrible practice, but it is especially horrendous when it involves children.

Worldwide, there is a problem with children being viewed as commodities and being sold as such in numerous places, including online. The online classified advertisements website Backpage is one place that has been reputed for such deals to take place.

According to NBC Los Angeles, police have been able to shut down some child traffickers by finding their ads that use certain keywords. But the traffickers changed up their game and started using emojis as a code in their advertisements.

Based on prior research Dr. Murray Jennex had done with a different student, Jennex and San Diego State University Information Systems Master’s Program graduate Jessica Whitney “applied the known keyword indicators from the prior research and found something unexpected in the process: emojis, and lots of them, weaved into the content of ads,” reported The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Jennex said that the duo then “used the keywords that were indicators” in order to break the emojis code.

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They discovered that some emojis are commonly used by child sex traffickers and they include a “rose, rosette, cherry, cherry blossom, growing heart, airplane, and crown.”

KDVR wrote that they were also to decipher emoji meanings such as a cherry meaning the child is a virgin and an airplane meaning the child is “new in town.”

Other cited examples include “the growing heart” indicating that the child “is childlike and still has some growing to do,” while the crown means the child is “under house arrest.”

Jennex and Whitney “would be recognized by Soroptimists Together Against Trafficking” for their work on creating that algorithm, according to NBC Los Angeles.

Their work will help law enforcement in their efforts to rescue sex trafficking victims and arrest the traffickers.

Citing the National Human Trafficking Hotline, The San Diego Union-Tribune wrote that “more than 7,500 cases of human trafficking were reported in 2016, with more than 1,300 cases reported in California alone.”

Multiple organizations in the United States and around the globe work to help combat the problem and give aid to the victims as they try to recover from the horrors they experienced.



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Kendall Rames of Denver’s Urban Peak organization told KDVR that homeless teens are particularly vulnerable to traffickers and once in their clutches, escape can be an almost impossible task.

Rames explained, “It is very difficult to especially get younger (kids) who are being trafficked under 18 because they are very well protected and have a very hard time getting away.”

The “research methodology” developed by Jennex and Whitney is being used by district attorneys across the country, wrote NBC Los Angeles. The list includes Texas, New York, and San Diego, California.

This incredible development offers new hope to victims and when used by more law enforcement agencies may prove to be a powerful tool in the arsenal used to save children. Although criminals are known to change their methods when cops catch on to them, as long as caring people such as Jennex and Whitney exist, the criminal advantage won’t be long-lived.

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