Project Backpage: Using text messaging to initiate outreach support for victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation

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  • The use of the Internet and online advertising for solicitation by sex workers has created new challenges for community organizations attempting to reach victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation through traditional outreach strategies. Until recently, prostitution occurred primarily on the street and outreach was typically initiated through direct face-to-face contact. In this paper we describe the design and outcome of a multi-phase community-university collaboration in Edmonton, Canada, to explore the use of SMS text messaging to initiate outreach with individuals advertising on the adult services section of the website The paper describes the impetus behind the project, the project goals and design, as well as results thus far. We also reflect on the results and present a set of emerging best practices, including the contribution of two-way text-based interaction for establishing trust between outreach organizations and the individuals seeking support. Overall, results from the project provide evidence to show that SMS is a cost-effective and important complementary communication strategy for outreach organizations seeking to initiate outreach to victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

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    Article (Published)
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    Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International
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