Fighting child traffickers with technology

Case study

Spotlight, Thorn's flagship product, is focused on rapidly identifying trafficking victims and helping law enforcement act fast to stop the abuse. Spotlight is a victim identification tool used by law enforcement to aid in juvenile sex trafficking investigations and is currently used by over 10,000 investigators.


The internet has made it easier for children to be bought and sold online. There are more than 150,000 escort ads posted every day in the US. Somewhere in that pile of data are children who are bought and sold online for sex. When Thorn surveyed underage sex trafficking victims, 3 out of 4 who entered the life in the past decade said they had been advertised online at some point in their trafficking situation.


Spotlight is an investigative tool that turns the massive amount of data from escort sites into a resource for law enforcement seeking to identify children trafficked on those same sites. Information is brought together in Spotlight and used by investigators to find children sooner and get to them faster. Thorn relies on the Apify platform to automate the collection and storage of some of the vast amounts of data that it uses to identify victims. Apify currently collects data from multiple websites known to host ads for trafficked children for Thorn. Apify also created an advanced monitoring system to react to changes or errors on the many websites being analyzed.


Investigators save more time when they use Spotlight. The risk of including misleading information is reduced and vast swaths of data are turned from an obstacle into an asset. The time saved can be reallocated to recovering and helping victims. But the most important benefit is that this data helps change the lives of real children. Used throughout the United States and Canada, Spotlight has, in only four years of existence, helped identify 14,874 child victims of human trafficking and 16,927 traffickers. Thorn is a shining example of how technology can transform a challenge into a benefit. It is both one of Apify's most sobering and most inspiring success stories and we're proud to contribute to Thorn’s mission.

We developed Spotlight because we wanted to build technology that enabled investigators to focus their time on identifying and recovering more kids. Using Apify allows us to automate our collection so we can focus on building the features that do just that. The Apify team has been flexible and innovative in accommodating our unique collection needs.


Senior Product Manager at Thorn

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