Texas is second in the nation behind California in the number of reported human trafficking cases. That’s when people, including children, are sold into forced labor or the sex trade. The crimes are often unreported.
A graduate student from UNT, Lisa Mercer, aims to change that with a smartphone app.
Interview Highlights: Lisa Mercer
... on how 'Operation Compass' works: "Once you open it, you have the option of choosing between English and Spanish - and then once you make that selection, you can either choose to fill out a form. That form also has the option of creating an audio recording. If you're driving, you have the option of doing something hands-free. The form can remain completely anonymous. Once you hit submit, you have the ability to decide to include your name or not."
... on the idea behind the app: "My background is interaction design, and when it came down to the time to pick something to focus on for my thesis -- I had seen a flyer on campus ... about this topic, and so I was a little surprised by it. I thought 'Well, do they do more things more internationally?' So I started to research. The more research I did, the more surprised by how much it was happening in our communities."
... on Mosaic Family Services' role in the app: "The incidents will be sent to an e-mail that they provide and they'll also have their hotline on the app, so you can either call them or submit a form to them through the app. Their responsibility will be responding to those incidents and at that point they'll make the decision if that incident should be shared with law enforcement."
... on how truck stops are involved in human trafficking: "It hits them in two different ways. You definitely have certain truck stops with sex workers at the location. But human trafficking is a constant movement of victims and so not only do they have sex workers at some of the truck stops, but they also have a front-row seat to seeing this movement of victims."
... on some of the signs of human trafficking: "It's hidden in plain sight really. I mean it could easily be somebody that we walk down the street and they walk next to us and we have no idea. There's no clear answer. What I try to tell people is if you see something that you think that makes you question 'could this be human trafficking?' then it's worth reporting. You're allowing law enforcement or victim advocates to look at the situation. With their trained eyes, they will really be able to determine what the situation is."
Lisa Mercer is a graduate student at UNT and the founder of Operation Compass.