Tuesday, June 01, 2010

South African police being trained in child exploitation tracking software

A big concern for the upcoming World Cup is a possible increase of child exploitation during the tournament. With many tourists coming to South Africa the fear is that many children or young women will also be brought in to be "rented" during the games.

A Microsoft program manger has helped to develop a software to combat human trafficking. John Hancock developed the Child Exploitation Tracking System with police in Toronto. The program is now spreading to other police departments and officers from South Africa were recently introduced to the software.

From the Globe and Mail, writer Ann Hui talked to Hancock as he visited the training.

“Calling it child pornography just sends the wrong message,” he said of the images shown to him and a group of Microsoft executives in 2003 by former Toronto child-exploitation officer Paul Gillespie. “These were crime scene images. These were children being abused.”

Mr. Hancock, a 37-year-old program manager at Microsoft, was born in the United Kingdom, but grew up near Johannesburg where he lived until his mid-20s. This is why, when helping the Toronto Police in 2003 create the Child Exploitation Tracking System – a software tool that is now used globally to combat child pornography and trafficking – he hoped his home country might one day get the chance to use it.

“There’s a lot of poverty, a lot of children missing parents, and a lot of tourists,” Mr. Hancock said. “It’s the perfect storm for child exploitation and trafficking.”

Seven years later, and amidst concerns of increased abuse during the upcoming World Cup, Mr. Hancock is finally seeing that happen.

On Monday, he watched as a group of South African police officers and criminal prosecutors learned how to use CETS at the Toronto Police College in Etobicoke.

“It’s been the highlight of my career,” Mr. Hancock said.

Although the software won’t be implemented in time for the World Cup, he said he hopes that the other investigation techniques taught will help to immediately combat abuse. Mr. Hancock now lives in Redmond, Wash., but was in Toronto on business and dropped by to watch the training.

The group from South Africa is being trained in areas such as victims’ issues and the proper uses of online sources by the Kids’ Internet Safety Alliance, a non-profit organization started by Mr. Gillespie before leaving the Toronto Police in 2006. Mr. Gillespie estimates there are about one million images online that depict the abuse of about 50,000 children.

Though Mr. Gillespie is careful to say that the South African group is not being trained only because of the World Cup, he acknowledged that large global events like it pose a risk. Last week, UNICEF addressed concerns of exploitation during the World Cup by launching a social networking platform called Red Card contact, aimed at combating abuse.

“For the same reason the Olympics were a challenge – many people in the world coming to one spot, they want to be entertained, they often have a lot of money,” said Mr. Gillespie. “And along with that comes people who are interested in the purchasing or renting of human beings.”

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