In a survey conducted by Thorn to understand the role of technology in domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST), it was noted that most victims are not seeing helpline numbers while in the life, and those that did not see helpline numbers encouraged the use of social media for placement. Improving visibility of helpful resources such as helplines on platforms known to be frequented by DMST victims could increase opportunities for exiting the life.
In the same survey, the majority of survivors stated that they had access to the Internet while they were in the life and 90% of those reported using social media. Survivors were also asked what type of help they wanted while in the life, 69 percent said they wanted help escaping the life, 65 percent said mental health needs (e.g., counseling), 62 percent said basic needs (e.g., food, clothing, shelter, etc.) and 45 percent said medical needs.
In another survey by Polaris,19 percent of survivors stated that social media played a role in their exit and 20 percent disclosed that they utilized private messages on social media apps to communicate with service providers.
This survey data indicates that victims and survivors need access to helpful services, it also indicates that social media can be used as a method of disseminating the needed information. So to help combat this problem, I decided to build a chatbot that helps victims and survivors of DMST find the closest support services. This chatbot will make help resources more accessible to victims and survivors especially on Facebook as it was noted to be the most accessed social media website by survivors in the Thorn survey.
The Thorn survivor insights can be found here: Survivor Insights
What it does
HelpBot is a chatbot that helps victims and survivors of domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST) get in touch with the nearest support service providers. The chatbot gets its data from the National Human Trafficking Referral Directory, which provides critical emergency, transitional, and long-term social services for victims and survivors of human trafficking across the U.S. HelpBot only provides information on services that were noted to be needed by survivors in the Thorn survey such as mental health treatment, medical care e.t.c.
HelpBot will ask the user for details such as age and gender in order to find suitable service providers, the bot will then find and display the service provider's helpline and website. I have published HelpBot on Facebook Messenger, it can also be integrated with other chat platforms such as Kik and on non-profit websites.
How I built it
HelpBot is built with Amazon Lex which uses natural language understanding (NLU) to recognize the intent of the text. For the backend I started off by building a Lambda function that scrapes data from the National Human Trafficking Referral Directory, the Lambda function organizes and stores the data in a DynamoDB table. Next, I used Amazon Lex to build the chatbot and Integrated it with Facebook. I also created another Lambda function that handles the chatbot's validation and fulfillment, the Lambda function scans the previously scraped data from DynamoDB in order to find a suitable service provider and displays the information to the user. I used AWS Codestar to get started with the project, the programming language I used was Python and I used the AWS Cloud9 IDE to write all the code. The project has been packaged with AWS SAM and submitted to the serverless application repository.
Challenges I ran into
I had no Idea what AWS SAM was or any of the AWS services, I had a hard time trying to understand everything, after doing some research I had enough information to start building.
Accomplishments that I'm proud of
I was able to start and finish the project in a short period of time despite being new to the AWS serverless services. I'm also glad I get to build something that could help victims and survivors of human trafficking find help.
What I learned
I learned about all the AWS serverless tools such as Lambda and SAM, I also learned about the serverless application repository which is pretty cool.
What's next for HelpBot
Currently, HelpBot only provides information on support service providers across the U.S, next I plan to extend it so that it can also help victims and survivors of human trafficking globally get in touch with the closest service providers.