Polaris started a text hotline in March, through a philanthropic partnership with San Francisco-based cloud company Twilio. Sex trafficking victims can text “HELP” or “INFO” to the number 233733 (BeFree), where they are forwarded to Polaris’s hotline staff, who then respond from their computers through a messaging service called Chatter.

In addition to texts being used by victims to seek help, texts can, collectively, be analyzed to identify patterns in human trafficking so the group might better craft policy and awareness programs. After searching its database of texts, Polaris’s staff identified common recruitment sites and recruiters worldwide who were drawing immigrants into the United States to work. There’s a population of people who are high-risk individuals, or survivors of trafficking, who would not call the phone number, and they wouldn’t send Polaris an e-mail, and they wouldn’t fill out a Web form, but for whatever reason they would send the organization a text. 

Training hotline specialists to use texts to help victims in crisis has been a challenge, because of the kinds of information they contain, as the article describes:

“The actual length and structure of the language you’re using is very different — you’re not speaking in full, complete sentences, you’re not able to explain context. It’s a very truncated, reductionist form of communication.” For instance, specialists have learned to interpret texting shorthand. If they ask if a victim is safe, the victim may respond “Y” or “N” instead of “yes” or “no.”

“We began to need to ask more directed, close-ended questions instead of open-ended questions,” asking if someone is safe, for instance, instead of asking them to describe their situation. Texts are often sent sporadically, so the conversation may take longer than a phone call. With texts, “it’s not a continuous stream of discussion,” as specialists might have to wait minutes or even hours for a response.

Polaris has operated a voice hotline, at 1-888-373-7888, for a few years.

These are links to interactive online trainings and pre-recorded webinars recommended by Polaris and developed by experts working in the anti-trafficking and related fields on a variety of topics related to human trafficking.

Does your organization have a text hotline? What does it try to achieve, and who staffs it? (volunteers or paid employees?)

Does your organization have online training to help anyone learn about a cause or issue of concern to your organization? Do you link to trainings by other organizations?

Speaking of Polaris and Human Trafficking, we (Caravan Studios) were selected to be among the 12 Finalists for the Re:Imagine Opportunity Challenge, alongside Polaris Project. I wrote about it here: forums.techsoup.org/.../129872.aspx

When I was working in Nairobi this last year, I attended the launch of Frontline SMS.  


With it, you can build responses and logic in the backend, so when people SMS a number, you can auto-reply with certain outputs.

Looks like they now have a cloud-based version for $10/mo (something new).  That should do everything someone needs to clone this sort of a project for other humanitarian purposes.


Hey Rog,

I will look into the Frontline SMS app. Thanks for the heads-up and apologies for taking so long to reply.