(USA TODAY) -- A $3 million grant from Google helped get an anti-human-trafficking hotline up and running today - the latest data-sharing effort aimed at fighting the growing problem.
The Global Human Trafficking Hotline Network, launched with Google's grant, will allow organizations working in the USA, Southeast Asia and Europe to standardize data, identify trends and combine statistics for a more comprehensive look at the issue.
"Right now, most of the hotlines around the world are doing great work but operating in isolation," said Bradley Myles, CEO of Polaris Project, a non-profit group that runs the U.S. human trafficking hotline. "The fight has to be more thoughtful, so collaboration and partnerships in this field can keep up and get ahead of the innovation of traffickers."
Polaris Project, Liberty Asia, a non-profit group that does work in Southeast Asia, and La Strada International, which focuses on parts of Europe, have been jointly awarded a Google Global Impact Award and will work to stitch together their different hotlines.
Human trafficking, as defined by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, can be the recruitment, transportation or harboring of people by means of force, deception or coercion. Victims, often mentally and physically abused, can be forced into prostitution, unfair working conditions or other exploitative situations.
Google's Global Impact Awards aim to help innovative people find solutions to large-scale complex problems, said Jacquelline Fuller, director of Google Giving.
Fuller, who spent time in India, became familiar with trafficking and exploitation while visiting that country. In the past few years, Google has given more than $14.5 million to anti-trafficking efforts such as its 2011 grant to Polaris Project and slaveryfootprint.org to raise awareness. Today's announcement aims to further its commitment to trafficking, Fuller said.
"The bad guys have been using technology in a much more savvy way," she said. "They are very savvy and sophisticated in identifying who's vulnerable and evading capture. We want to enable the good guys to use technology in highly leveraged ways, so they can innovate faster than the opposition."
Part of the $3 million will go toward supporting travel, identifying more hotlines and building the technological platforms needed to share data. In the next year, the organizations will share best practices, standardize the types of questions callers are asked, collect data in the same format and communicate regularly with other providers.
Officials hope to add other countries and will use the network to offer training and technical assistance to create hotlines in different parts of the world.
"It's trying to broaden the safety net for survivors," Myles said. "Hotlines work. Now it's a matter of taking the proof and scale that globally. Anywhere a victim is, there (should be a) hotline that covers that area."
Polaris Project has received more than 70,303 calls and 5,600 e-mails since December 2007.
Matt Friedman, technical director of Liberty Asia, hopes to learn from that experience. His organization, which began a year ago, will work with Polaris to establish a regional hotline for Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Burma, Cambodia, Laos and China.
That hotline hopes to mirror the call center of Polaris Project while providing information in multiple Asian languages through a number without long-distance charges.
Friedman stressed that trafficking is a transnational crime that requires good data to combat.
"We have, for example, trafficking victims from Vietnam and Thailand and Cambodia in The United States," Friedman said. "If we are able to link up our networks, we can make sure these people get home safely."
By Yamiche Alcindor