Virtual reality helps prevent sex trafficking on the Suncoast
SARASOTA- A virtual reality program puts users in the shoes of a young girl who gets sex trafficked.
The anti-human trafficking organization, Selah Freedom, has turned to the program “Trapped: a VR Detective Story,” to teach people how to avoid becoming victims of sex trafficking.
The program was developed by Billy Joe Cain’s Radical Empathy Education Foundation to show players how people can be pulled into the sex trafficking industry.
“The story itself revolves around a young girl who is in a broken family, so she’s posting about her family constantly online. One of the things that we're trying to teach people is that what you’re doing is that you’re broadcasting your vulnerabilities and people are out there looking for those vulnerabilities to take advantage of you,” said Executive Director of Radical Empathy Education Foundation, Billy Joe Cain.
Selah Freedom’s Prevention Coordinator, Hilda Arreola, plans to bring the program into schools, group homes, and shelters.
I watched her use the program for the first time.
“Oh my gosh, it’s eye opening. It’s just… I don’t know, I have no words,” said Arreola.
She says people need to understand how vulnerable children can be on the internet and social media.
“There is a very big misconception that sex trafficking equals kidnapping which, yes, that’s a tactic that is used, but that’s not the tactic that is used the most. Sex trafficking is happening more so in the form of a relationship that’s being formed between the individuals. Whether it be a friendship, a mentorship relationship. A bond is formed first before they start to exploit them, and a lot of it starts through social media,” said Arreola.
“Trapped” forces users to pay attention, while they may not have during a presentation.
“We don't want to just be talking at them for an hour. Let’s be honest, it’s going to bore them and they’re going to kind of drift away from the topic,” said Arreola.
“You’re getting 100% of their attention. They’re not in a room and they’re getting distracted or thinking about their texts. They’re literally in a whole different world and they are fully engaged with material,” said Cain.
Arreola hopes this program will be another tool that helps prevent children from becoming victims.
About 7,500 people have used the virtual reality program so far, and that number is only expected to grow.