February 21, 2019 / 1:05 AM / 5 months ago

Survivors draw on personal pasts to design anti-trafficking software

NEW YORK, Feb 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A California-based software company aiming to use technology to end modern slavery is going to the source for expertise - survivors of human trafficking.

Nonprofit AnnieCannons trains survivors in every aspect of software engineering, believing that they have a special insight into the needs of trafficking victims.

“Because survivors are the ones writing the code, they’re making those decisions in a way that’s survivor-centric,” Jessica Hubley, chief executive of AnnieCannons, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Wednesday.

AnnieCannons was among the representatives from the tech industry and anti-trafficking groups gathered in New York this week for an event called the Code 8.7 conference, a reference to a United Nations global goal to eliminate modern slavery by 2030.

One AnnieCannons student has designed an app to make it easier to get a legal restraining order, knowing the urgency of obtaining protection against a captor or abuser and the challenges the court system presents, a fellow student said.

“I’ve seen how consequential it is if a restraining order doesn’t go right,” said trafficking survivor and AnnieCannons student Catie Hart.

Hart said she was 18 when she moved to California for college and met a man she thought she would marry.

Instead, he coerced her into seven years of sex work, she said.

Hubley described another app for survivors to answer questions about their own sexual assault and exploitation and then receive feedback, reminding them they are not alone and not at fault.

Students who complete the courses at AnnieCannons can go on to be hired as software developers and work on a broad number of projects for clients across fields - not strictly in trafficking - and earn good incomes, Hubley said.

“It’s been one of the great things we’ve been missing,” said Kevin Bales, a research director at The University of Nottingham Rights Lab, speaking of the AnnieCannons program.

“People come out of these situations where they’ve been enslaved for years. All of their work has been stolen, so they have no money. They’re desperate to go to school.”

More than 40 million people are currently victims of human trafficking and modern slavery, according to the U.N.’s International Labour Organization.

Other speakers and participants at this week’s conference spoke of the importance of survivor input, though none had survivors involved from beginning to the end of their processes.

“One of the great things (AnnieCannons is) doing, which stands against what had been standard operating procedures, across lots of anti-trafficking work for years, was really thinking through, ‘What are the most appropriate skills to help people get to new livelihoods?’” said Bales. (Reporting by Kate Ryan; Editing by Jason Fields. Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate chenge. Visit www.trust.org)

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