It’s the coding answer to community service.
Students from Cornell and Columbia universities will be hacking for a good cause over the weekend through a program with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Human Trafficking Response Unit.
Specialized prosecutors and staff assigned to the unit will guide technology students in a hackathon as they experiment with ways to bring human trafficking to light, with the goal of identifying criminal activity in the dark corners of the web. Hackathons bring programmers together to work on all kinds of projects.
In recent memory, prosecutors have brought cases against pimps with the aid of massive troves of electronic evidence.
They are often able to connect the dots between a pimp and victims — or to a larger network of trafficked people.
District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. spoke to students at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner on Friday morning, putting their challenge in a courtroom context.
In recent years, Vance’s office and other law enforcement agencies have begun treating prostitutes as victims as they are often essentially brainwashed and dependent on psychologically and physically abusive pimps.
“We understand now how difficult it is for trafficking victims to separate from the person who is trafficking them,” Vance said.
The DA stressed the importance of shutting down networks for sex and labor traffickers, adding that progress on the web has enabled his office to build cases that would never have been prosecuted in the past.
“You may be helping to save lives,” he told the participants.
Assistant District Attorney John Temple, the chief of the Human Trafficking Response Unit, and ADAs Jennifer Dolle and Carolina Holderness also addressed students.
“Essentially, trafficking is modern day slavery,” Holderness said.
Victims are “exploited, sometimes for years at a time,” she added.
Students will be brainstorming ways to boost computer crime-fighting at the weekend-long event at Cornell Tech in Chelsea.
They will be asked to focus on labor trafficking — the funneling of low or no wage workers to a particular place for profit.