AUSTIN, Texas (FOX 7 Austin) - Instead of asking teens to put down their phones this summer, non-profit Whatever It Takes asked a group of teens to grab their technological devices and get to work on one of the state's leading issues --human trafficking.
Sarah Hernholm, the founder of Whatever It Takes, teamed up with the City of Austin and Google to host a hackathon. The Saturday event was aimed at inspiring tech savvy teens to educate themselves on the challenges victims of human trafficking face.
Alison Franklin knows the issue of human trafficking all too well.
Her story begins when she was a child facing sexual abuse. Franklin said traffickers prey people who have been abused. As she got older she was kidnapped by gang members in Houston. "My real trafficker pretended to rescue me from them. What I didn't know is they actually worked together to enslave American women and children in trafficking," Franklin said.
Franklin's abuse lasted decades she said she was in and out of the criminal justice system before she found help. "I was identified as a criminal rather than a victim the unfortunate part was it wasn't till my 9th felony that I had access to services that allowed me some kind of exit," said Franklin.
Franklin was able to get out, but the same cannot be said for others.
According to the Texas Attorney General’s Office, 79-thousand minors become victims of sex trafficking in Texas. Hernholm said the event not only allows participants to be innovative but educates them on the issues facing their demographic.
Madeleine Brutin signed up at the chance to participate because of the impact sexual exploitation has had on the Philippines, her family’s home country. Brutin’s group aimed to spread awareness by creating an Instagram account called ‘Just One.’ "We hope to at least put a couple of speed bumps into teen trafficking trying to stop teen trafficking because it is a real problem and it's better than anyone thinks it is," Brutin said.
Another group was tasked with making the human trafficking hotline available to victims.
Arsh Gamare and his group came up with the idea of creating a bot that would be on Google’s home page. The bot would ask users questions and search for red flags and identify a potential victim. "We came to know information that traffickers are pretty tech savvy they know how to monitor a child and monitor a victim," Gamare said.
The students worked on their projects all day and readied their ideas before presenting them before judges, in hopes their work may aid in the fight against human trafficking.