The internet and social media are powerful tools for anyone experiencing trafficking or violence. They can be essential resources to access help and resources, and valuable platforms to connect with friends, family members, advocates, and service providers. Unfortunately, the internet can also be used by traffickers to begin, continue, or escalate exploitation, making it all the more important to ensure internet safety.
- Your computer and cell phone use can be monitored without you knowing it.
- Your history can never be completely erased from a computer or device, even if you browse in “private” or “incognito” mode.
- Email can be intercepted like physical mail.
- Global Positioning System (GPS) trackers can be placed in your car or on items like your purse or cell phone.
- The Wisconsin Court System publishes its records online, which could contain compromising personal information like names or addresses.
Use Public Computers
Public Computers at local public libraries or community centers are more difficult to trace. Consider using these to access help whenever possible.
Delete Search History
Search engines track your online searches and this information can be accessed by others using the same computer. If you are concerned that your trafficker will see what you have been searching for online, is important to clear your search history after each session. Here are instructions at Google, Yahoo, and Bing.
Delete Browser History
Your browser saves a list of all the websites you have visited while on the internet, and should be cleared after every session, especially if you’ve visited sites you wish to keep private from your trafficker. Learn how to delete your search history on Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Toolbar.
If the “Use Inline AutoComplete” box in your Internet settings is checked, partial web addresses will be completed while typing in the Address bar and could reveal where you have been browsing. To make sure AutoComplete is not enabled, pull down the Tools menu, choose Internet Options, then click the Advanced tab. There is a box that can be checked or unchecked called “Use Inline AutoComplete.” Uncheck the box if it is checked.
Disable Chat Logs
If you are using a chat feature, check to see if your program has a Disable/Enable log setting that you can disable while you are chatting. Once you are done chatting, you can restore the settings.
When posting on social networking sites, double check privacy settings and remove any geographical check-in points such as Four Square, or automatic GPS tags on photographs or photograph-based websites. Privacy & Safety on Facebook: A Guide for Survivors is an in depth guide on how to best manage your privacy on Facebook. Learn more about safety and privacy on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
When posting on social networking sites, be cautious not to provide unnecessary information regarding your daily activities or close friends and family.
Block Trafficker/Trafficker’s Acquaintances
Consider blocking your trafficker, and ”Unfriending”/”Unfollowing” all of your trafficker’s friends or mutual friends you cannot trust. Blocking a user from a social network site, provides extra levels of privacy and security. Always consider that anything shared on a social networking site can eventually find its way to your trafficker and/or someone that might pass on this information, even innocently.
New Email Account
Choose a gender-neutral, non-specific username that is not similar to one you have used before, not yourname@. Don’t reference favorite hobbies or birthdates in your username, or anything that might alert your trafficker to your identity.
Online Address Book
If you use the address book associated with your email program, do not enter sensitive information into the address book. If your email program automatically enters email addresses into the address book of people you’ve replied to, you may be able to disable that feature. You may also be able to disable the automatic name completion feature, which fills in an email address after the first few letters are typed.
You can prevent items from being saved in your Sent folder by disabling that feature in your email. You can either set your deleted items folder to be cleared daily, or simply empty it at the end of each email session.
You can block incoming emails through your email program. You can select to block specific email addresses, or addresses ending in the same address (e.g. email@example.com or any email that ends in address.com.) You can also choose to have designated senders’ emails sent to a specific folder. This will allow you the ability to read the emails at a time that is convenient for you, and also allows you to have a copy of the email should there be threats, etc.
Below are resources to assist in teaching youth how to stay safe online:
- NetSmartz: NetSmartz is an interactive, educational program of NCMEC that provides age-appropriate resources to help teach children how to be safer on- and offline. The program is designed for children ages 5-17, parents and guardians, educators, and law enforcement. With resources such as videos, games, activity cards, and presentations, NetSmartz entertains while it educates. Its goals are to educate children on how to recognize potential Internet risks, engage children and adults in a two-way conversation about on- and offline risks, and empower children to help prevent themselves from being exploited and to report victimization to a trusted adult.
- Savvy Cyber Kids: Savvy Cyber Kids offers free guides for parents, grandparents, and teachers about current technology, how to educate children about the risks of being online, and how to discuss sex in the contact of the digital age. Resources for educators focus on frameworks for lesson plans about technology, appropriate for different age groups. Please note that users have to create a free account to access resources.
Personal Harassment (Authorities)
If you are being harassed online, there are several steps you can take to end the harassment. The first thing to do is save copies of everything. If you have a protection order that stipulates no contact, email/contact in a chat room is a violation, and you can report that to the local authorities.
Personal Harassment (Internet Service Providers)
You can also contact the internet service provider (ISP) and email the service of the person that is harassing you. For example, if you are receiving harassing emails from a hotmail account (address ending in @hotmail.com), you can contact hotmail through their website to report the harassment. If a website has been created about you, you can contact the host of the site. This can usually be done by selecting the Contact Us option on the website.
There are a variety of apps for smart phones to keep you or your loved ones safe. Learn about and download the apps that you think would work best for you. A list of common apps is below. The National Human Trafficking Hotline is not affiliated with any of these apps. Remember that technology changes rapidly, so this list should not be considered exhaustive. Consider googling “safety apps” to find more suggestions or solutions.
- Circle of Six – This app lets you add up to 6 people from your contacts to join your Circle. Then with the touch of a button you can send the following commands – the pin icon sends a text and your GPS location to your Circle that says: “Come and get me. I need help getting home safely.” The phone icon sends a text to your Circle that says: “Call and pretend you need me. I need an interruption.” The chat icon sends a text to your Circle that says: “I need to talk.”” Your friends can then immediately respond to your situation.
- BSafe – BSafe offers 6 features to help you stay safe. The Alarm feature sets off a siren (optional), and bSafe starts recording video and voice as well as sending your GPS location to your chosen friends. The Follow Me feature lets friends follow your movements on the mobile map. Once you have arrived home safely, your friends will be notified. The Fake Call feature will make your phone call you. You can also set it on a timer in advance to have an excuse to leave a situation. The Recording feature automatically starts recording video and audio and the recording is sent your primary person’s mobile phone. The I Am Here feature shares your location with your friends. The Timer feature notifies your friends if you have not checked in within a certain time.
- SafeTrek – This is not a free app, and requires a monthly or yearly fee. To use it you open the SafeTrek app and hold your thumb on the safe button. If you determine you are safe, release the button and enter your 4 digit pin. If you are in danger, release the button and do not enter your pin. Local police will be notified of your location and that there’s an emergency.
Change passwords and PINs frequently, and never give your passwords/PINs to anyone. Choose passwords that are difficult to guess and include letters and numbers. If you need to write it down, write down a hint rather than the actual password. Do not allow the computer to remember passwords for you.
Do a search on Google, Bing, and Yahoo for your full name and city or state to screen all publicly available information that someone can find about you on the Internet. Also, be cautious about having photos of you or your children displayed online.
Article Sources: National Human Trafficking Hotline; Polaris Project and the National Domestic Violence Hotline