App helps Berrien County take on human trafficking
BERRIEN COUNTY, Mich. -- Berrien County is now the first county in the nation to embrace an app that helps fight sex trafficking.
“I think that this is the most effective fighting tool we have, at present time, in the hospitality industry,” said Cathy Knauf, the founder and director of the Southwest Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force.
TraffickCam is an app that is free and open for anyone to use.
That’s why Knauf and her organization spent the last few months getting several dozen Berrien County hotels and motels to agree to use it.
“I think that puts a huge warning sign out there to traffickers that you’re not really welcome in this county,” Knauf said.
To use the app, you type in your hotel’s name and room number, and then take four pictures to show what your room looks like.
The app then sends the photos straight to an FBI database, which is used to locate and save trafficking victims.
Unicef says human trafficking is the “second largest criminal industry in the world.”
TraffickCam hopes to fight it by helping the FBI locate trafficking victims who are posted about online.
Knauf said your four pictures should be of your hotel room’s view, the beds, the bathroom, and any distinguishable artwork.
“Even though this artwork may be in 20 other rooms, they have a way of identifying through their technology that it’s this room that they were in,” Knauf said, pointing to a painting hanging inside a room at the Inn at Harbor Shores.
The St. Joe hotel was one of the first to sign on to use the app.
“If we can play an active role in this, it will help benefit the community as a whole,” said Brady Cohen, the hotel’s general manager.
More than 90-percent of Berrien County’s hotels and motels agreed to use the app.
Of the five that did not, four said the manager was not available on Thursday to speak about why.
A manager at the fifth hotel said he’s more than willing to join the effort, but he said he’s waiting for more information from Knauf.
Knauf said Michiana can set an example nationwide.
“Even if it helps rescue one person at one point, why not do this?” she said.
Knauf added that anyone can download the app and take pictures inside a hotel room they check into, even if the hotel is not using the app.
She said it’s important that the pictures you send in do not include people.