Smithfield High School students use technology, art to stop human trafficking

SMITHFIELD, Va. (WAVY) — A group of local students is tackling one of the biggest challenges facing society today: Human trafficking.

Now, local and national law enforcement are looking at technology developed by one of those students. The student says the technology gives him a way to watch online criminals in action, and then he can give their information to law enforcement. This technology was created in part because of a class project where a group of students put their skills to work to stop human trafficking. They worked with the Prevention Project, based out of Richmond.

Matt Ployd wanted to give his students a project that could make an impact. He didn’t expect that human trafficking would be the topic that lit the fire.

“The more they found out they could be heard and make a difference locally, the more emphatically they got involved in it,” said Ployd.

In 2016, Virginia was ranked 15th in the nation for reported cases of human trafficking, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. It was a number that surprised the students at Smithfield High School.

“It can happen to anybody,” said senior Donte’ Wren, who designed some of the artwork the class is using.

That’s why they used their skills, ranging from art to technology like QR codes, all to bring awareness to the issue.

“If anything is going on, they can get a hold of someone, talk it out with them,” said senior Andrew Kowalski.

One student’s software has caught the eye of law enforcement agencies, both locally and nationally. He didn’t want to show his face, because what he’s created has the potential to catch a lot of criminals. The student said, “You’re watching him do it, then you’re gathering information on them committing the crime.”

He accesses the TOR network, which people could use for illegal activities like buying weapons, watching child porn and even participating in human trafficking. The TOR network hides people’s IP addresses, but the student has found a way around that. He said, “We redirect it to the attacker, we gather the information and send it on to the website like nothing happened. Then we take that information and hand it over to local or state law enforcement.”

While this student’s technology is certainly impressive, the students say the awareness they’ve generated is most rewarding part.

The Isle of Wight Sheriff’s Office says human trafficking is something that’s always on their horizon, and they have had a few cases that could be linked to human trafficking.