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Bend human trafficking fighters host MIT hackers

BEND, Ore. - Sexual trafficking is the most profitable and fastest-growing crime in the world, even surpassing drug dealing. Sex trafficking is estimated as a $100 billion industry worldwide, up from $30 billion 10 years ago, according to a Bend-based nonprofit called Guardian Group working to combat those statistics.

Here's the rest of their news release about an upcoming event:

Guardian Group was founded in 2010 by Jeff Keith, who started his anti-trafficking work in 2004 with global anti-human trafficking organizations and began researching best practices in this industry. During his work and research, Jeff saw an opportunity to significantly reduce human trafficking in the United States by providing focused training, targeted networking, better resource coordination and innovative counter-trafficking strategies, and thus, Guardian Group was founded.

The Guardian Group model is two-fold for a problem that is extremely complex, incorporating both defensive and offensive strategies. The first goal is to engage skilled, trained veterans to enable law enforcement to pursue predators. Secondly, Guardian Group helps prevent future activity through training of law enforcement, government agencies and those working in the travel and hospitality industries, where sex trafficking occurs, to identify criminals and the victims caught in their webs.

Although many believe sex trafficking of minors is relegated to larger cities, this crime occurs in Bend and its outlying communities as well.

Sex trafficking affects adults and minors as young as 10, and is so widespread that a concentrated and committed effort is required to eradicate it.

One of the problems with enforcement is that less than 20% of law enforcement officials are trained in this area. To rectify this, in 2016 Guardian Group trained all new Oregon detectives at the Salem Police Academy.

Additionally, Guardian Group helped form Central Oregon’s Response Team, which is receiving statewide attention and exposure for its unique and proactive approach to trafficking.

Because of the mobile nature of this crime, Guardian Group works closely with other Oregon cities, as well as with teams in major metros across the Western United States, as part of a national, comprehensive strategy dedicated to prevention, protection, partnership, and prosecution, while also deploying resources to proactively pursue predators.

To support this endeavor, a group of six graduate students from Massachusetts Institute of Technology  requested to come to Bend to study this problem more deeply. From February 17th to 19th, Guardian Group will host the MIT students for a three-day conference to discuss and develop innovative solutions to counter sex trafficking.

Called a Hackathon, this session will review critical questions and develop technical solutions and methodology, with the intent to better track leads using technical data and other techniques and tactics to combat sex trafficking.

The three-day event will culminate in an interactive evening with local impact leaders at Deschutes Brewery on Sunday, February 19th, during which the results of the MIT Hackathon will be shared.

Says Keith: “We will spotlight our community but also discuss how Bend, Oregon, is postured to lead the nation through innovation and strategy with groups such as MIT to ‘Bring the Fight to Sex Trafficking.’ The goal of the forum is to demonstrate that a community of professionals in both the public and private sectors, along with tier-one research universities, can engage in collaborative inquiry leading to practical solutions. This is a ‘roll-up your sleeves’ meeting of some of Bend’s most creative minds to discuss this issue, but the conversation could expand from there.”

Keith has been impressed with the positive responses so far and expects an excellent turnout. The media is also invited to this evening, which is being sponsored by Deschutes Brewery and Umpqua Bank.

Following the MIT Hackathon, Guardian Group will be leading another workshop at the Social Enterprise Conference at Harvard and while there, will continue the work they started with MIT in Bend. For additional information on Guardian Group, please go to www.theguardiangroup.us or email Alex Dugan at alex.dugan@theguardiangroup.us.

ABOUT GUARDIAN GROUP:

Guardian Group is a 501c (3) non-profit organization of former law enforcement and former elite military personnel who have partnered with law enforcement agencies since 2010 to work towards ending sex trafficking, which is the most profitable and fastest growing crime in the world. Sexual exploitation is not a new phenomenon, but has been overlooked, and involves an incalculable number of victims. The average age of entry for minors engaged in this activity is 12-14 years old, and some workers are as young as 10. Human trafficking is a modern form of slavery, and once entangled in this world, it is very dangerous and difficult for victims to escape. It takes a trained eye to know when suspicious activity might allude to this type of crime. Guardian Group trains veterans to pursue predators in conjunction with a team of local providers, including Bend Police Department, Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office and the Deschutes County District Attorney’s Office.

In addition, Guardian Group has developed a signature training program for those in the hospitality and travel industries, as travel venues serve as shelter for criminal trafficking. The Guardian Seal Training Program was created for companies to help employees recognize when a suspicious activity occurs at their place of business and respond to authorities. Once a company has taken the training, the Guardian Seal will mark the business as an educated partner in this fight to help deter future traffickers and buyers from engaging in illicit activity at the marked venue. The Guardian Seal Training Program is also being offered to law enforcement, the transportation industry, government agencies, corporations and the public, so the wider community can begin to recognize human trafficking. New partners, such as the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association (ORLA) and the Asian American Hotel Owners Association, have joined Guardian Group in this offensive effort.

Guardian Group also works with advocacy and victim recovery and support, as sex workers, especially minors, lack the essential skills or support required to survive on their own. Kids Center, J Bar J, Saving Grace, Department of Human Services, and Deschutes County Victim Assistance are among the organizations with whom Guardian Group partners to offer survivors therapeutic and practical support. For additional information, please go to www.theguardiangroup.us or reach out to Alex Dugan at alex.dugan@theguardiangroup.us. 


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