Presentation Type

Presentation

Faculty Mentor’s Full Name

Katharina Werner

Faculty Mentor’s Department

Social Work

Abstract

Sex trafficking is a global crisis. The International Labor Organization estimates a total of 40.3 million people are trafficked annually, with 15.4 million placed in forced marriages and 4.8 million entering sexual exploitation (2017). Technology has become a tool for traffickers to prey on the vulnerable but has also developed into an invaluable means to reach those targeted. Our group, Raise the Flag, addresses this critical issue by examining the social media platform Instagram and how predators use it to target vulnerable populations, particularly those in rural and tribal communities of the United States. According to researcher Leilahni Upham “the power of awareness plays a vital role in combating sex trafficking in rural communities” (2019), and it is by utilizing social media to disseminate information and resources that we aim to undermine traffickers.

With an increasing number of victims recruited online, we created an educational Instagram campaign as a progressive form of outreach that could more directly impact the Missoula community. To reach our target audience, we first cultivated followers by posting scheduled content designed to educate them, as well as provided resources to help others recognize and respond to trafficking situations. We networked with other established groups for support, such as the University of Montana Student Advocacy Resource Center and The Lifeguard Group, as well as by fostering a physical presence on campus through tabling events, distributing stickers, and posting fliers. We retained our followers by developing engaging Instagram content, including quizzes, stories, and infographics. By establishing an interactive following, we encourage the likelihood of resources spreading and provide a model of support to similar rural communities. With Raise the Flag, we intend to foster awareness that will contribute to the overall fight against sex trafficking and better equip communities to proactively support victims and survivors.

Category

Interdisciplinary (GLI)

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Raise the Flag: Spreading Awareness of the Sex Trafficking Crisis Through Social Media

Sex trafficking is a global crisis. The International Labor Organization estimates a total of 40.3 million people are trafficked annually, with 15.4 million placed in forced marriages and 4.8 million entering sexual exploitation (2017). Technology has become a tool for traffickers to prey on the vulnerable but has also developed into an invaluable means to reach those targeted. Our group, Raise the Flag, addresses this critical issue by examining the social media platform Instagram and how predators use it to target vulnerable populations, particularly those in rural and tribal communities of the United States. According to researcher Leilahni Upham “the power of awareness plays a vital role in combating sex trafficking in rural communities” (2019), and it is by utilizing social media to disseminate information and resources that we aim to undermine traffickers.

With an increasing number of victims recruited online, we created an educational Instagram campaign as a progressive form of outreach that could more directly impact the Missoula community. To reach our target audience, we first cultivated followers by posting scheduled content designed to educate them, as well as provided resources to help others recognize and respond to trafficking situations. We networked with other established groups for support, such as the University of Montana Student Advocacy Resource Center and The Lifeguard Group, as well as by fostering a physical presence on campus through tabling events, distributing stickers, and posting fliers. We retained our followers by developing engaging Instagram content, including quizzes, stories, and infographics. By establishing an interactive following, we encourage the likelihood of resources spreading and provide a model of support to similar rural communities. With Raise the Flag, we intend to foster awareness that will contribute to the overall fight against sex trafficking and better equip communities to proactively support victims and survivors.