In early October, experts across the Minnesota tech community joined forces for a two-day hackathon to combat child sex trafficking. The goal of the Build What You Believe hackathon was to make improvements to Spotlight, the database created by Thorn and used by law enforcement nationwide to find traffickers and help victims.

Who was there

The hackathon was hosted by Thorn & Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT). Three Clockwork software engineers, Jessica Zehavi, Joseph Kerkhof, and Laurel Johnson, volunteered along with other technologists from Minnesota companies like Target and Optum. Laurel noted that the attendees shared an understanding that “vulnerable people in society are more vulnerable because of technology so we need to use technology to protect them.” Aware of the challenge ahead of time, the hackathoners showed up ready to figure out their approach and get to work.

“Vulnerable people in society are more vulnerable because of technology so we need to use technology to protect them.”

Thorn is making the internet safer and helping others help too

Thorn’s mission is to make the power of technology work to protect kids. They create tools, like the one worked on during the hackathon, that help law enforcement save victims of trafficking and abuse. Thorn also offers resources that organizations can use to make sure their platforms are not misused by abusers and traffickers. 

Safer is another tool created by Thorn. It integrates with systems to monitor content and identify instances of child sexual abuse material. Safer alerts companies of any flagged content — allowing them to remove it quickly from their site. Monitoring is especially important when an organization’s site has user-generated content that users could misuse.

Moving target

At the end of the hackathon, attendees felt even more inspired by the mission. When developing an online platform or service, it’s challenging to predict how it might get misused. Fortunately, organizations like Thorn are spreading awareness, resources, and hope to empower companies of all sizes to play defense and build their platforms in a way that protects people — especially kids.

By all accounts, the Build What You Believe hackathon was a success in the fight against child sex trafficking. But this is a moving target that’s constantly evolving, so there’s a need for continuous innovation and exploration of new techniques. With that comes the need for more resources and support so that organizations, like Thorn, can keep creating the tools that help law enforcement save kids.

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