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Follow the thread: How public records help one agency fight human trafficking

A crime almost never exists in isolation.

In many cases, a wrongdoer commits not only one, but rather many offenses — be they violations of a formal law or transgressions against society’s collective sense of justice.

The cascading harm that emanates from every instance of criminal activity is particularly acute when it comes to human trafficking, which the United Nations defines as the coercion of a person against his or her will for an improper purpose. Human traffickers rarely commit one offense and change their ways. In many circumstances, they often commit other wrongful acts in service of their ultimate goal — exploiting an innocent or deceived person for profit. Unfortunately, human trafficking is an especially shadowy realm of criminal activity, and one whose victims often resist coming forward due to fear or shame. That makes fighting it especially hard.

In the 18 years since its founding, the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Polaris has become one of the better-known non-governmental entities (NGOs) working to fight human trafficking. Recently, it has been using Thomson Reuters CLEAR to enhance its efforts to obtain justice on behalf of trafficked men, women, and children.

Although the ultimate aims of your organization may be different than Polaris’, you can learn from how it has used the technology and accuracy of CLEAR to advance its mission. Chiefly, Polaris has used CLEAR to:

  • Power up traditional methods: Across the country, law enforcement officers, municipal officials, and code enforcement professionals have tried, to varying degrees of success, to disrupt human trafficking networks. Polaris views these people as allies and takes the information it learns from CLEAR to help them be more effective. CLEAR helps Polaris identify areas of concern, so that on-the-ground personnel can move more quickly and strategically. Because CLEAR and Polaris make the means easier and the end clearer, authorities are able to have a greater impact.
  • Uncover hidden connections: Many human traffickers hide behind the façade of a legitimate business. The more “successful” trafficking organizations are quite skilled at masquerading as a series of shell organizations. CLEAR helps Polaris identify serial filers of shell businesses and follow their thread through mazes of legitimate (but irrelevant) businesses.
  • Synthesize “treasure troves” of data: Polaris can access more publicly available information than it knows what do to with. In fact, Polaris CEO Bradley Myles called them “treasure troves” of data — and noted that humans alone couldn’t effectively synthesize such voluminous information. CLEAR helps Polaris quickly gain an accurate sense of what the data is saying. For example, a serial filer of licenses for massage parlors may not be offering legitimate massage services, and so may be a candidate for further investigation. Many human traffickers are repeat offenders, and CLEAR helps Polaris follow what you might call a paper trail to figure out whose dealings might need a second look.

To revisit the idea that one crime is never enough, CLEAR has further helped Polaris identify connections between suspected human traffickers and ancillary crimes. That opens the possibility of bringing the trafficker to justice for other alleged crimes and may eliminate the need for their victims to revisit their trauma by testifying in court.

For you, the lesson Polaris and CLEAR provide might be that technology and precision can help you approach hard-to-tackle problems from a new angle. Working with CLEAR can help make sense of volumes of data you couldn’t handle on your own, and it can highlight areas where focusing your attention makes the most sense. If you’d like to learn more about CLEAR and how it can help your organization, schedule a complimentary consultation today.

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