Computer science students at OSU-Cascades used their skills Saturday to help a Bend-based nonprofit counter online sex trafficking.
The 10 students met in a classroom on campus for the daylong “Hackathon” event with members of the Guardian Group, whose mission is to fight sex trafficking.
The event was not about hacking into computer software, but developing a more streamlined system for the nonprofit to use on a daily basis.
Jeff Tiegs, chief operating officer at the Guardian Group, met with the students Saturday and said taking on sex trafficking is different from other major crimes because it can involve people from outside of law enforcement, such as the students.
“It’s actually solvable from a private citizen perspective,” Tiegs said. “All of us can join together and be a defense against these guys.”
A vast majority of sex trafficking originates on the internet through ads on websites such as Craigslist or Backpage, Tiegs said.
The Guardian Group searches the websites looking for ads and information. Team members then manually use publicly available search engines and programs online to connect information on the victims and send reports to law enforcement.
On Saturday, the students worked to make the process less time consuming by compiling all the different search engines and programs into one location.
A more efficient process will save the nonprofit time as it continues to hunt for cases across the country.
The Guardian Group has connected with about 60 different law enforcement agencies in more than 20 states, Tiegs said. The nonprofit is also partnering with websites such as Facebook and hotel companies, where sex traffickers meet victims in person.
“The tool that you are building for us today will help us more efficiently find these guys,” Tiegs told the students.
Yong Bakos, a computer science instructor at OSU-Cascades, said he first met with members of the Guardian Group last year during a Hackathon event in Bend that included students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Since then, Bakos was interested in hosting another event with his students and the nonprofit.
“My goal is to really identify what we can do in software to help really make a difference with their workflow,” Bakos said.
Tyler Nielsen, 20, a junior at OSU-Cascades, was a part of the voluntary event Saturday. He said he was motivated to help, in part from studying sex trafficking in a government class last year.
“Researching it opened my eyes to how big of an issue it is,” Nielsen said. “Some of the statistics are just scary to look at.”
Being a part of the effort to counter the crime, even in a small way, was rewarding, Nielsen said.
“It’s a manageable step forward,” he said.
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