Last month, a 15-year-old Texas teenager attending a Dallas Mavericks basketball game with her father left her seat to use the restroom. She never returned. 

Cameras caught the girl leaving the venue with a man who later sold her into sex slavery. The girl was missing for 11 days total, during which she was sold for sex at a hotel 200 miles away in Oklahoma City.

After being refused help from both the Dallas Police Department and the girl’s hometown police department, the father of the teen desperately turned to a Houston non-profit called Texas Counter-Trafficking Initiative, whose stated mission is “​​to counter the exploitation and subjugation of a vulnerable population and combat sex trafficking.” 

Using facial recognition technology, the firm was able to locate the girl by scanning and sweeping prostitution websites. The technology allowed the non-profit to identify sexually explicit images of the missing teen by comparing images to a photo of the girl that had been supplied by her parents.

The attorney representing the family said, “That agency was able to help them locate the photograph of their daughter online within the same day.”

Tragically, worldwide, human trafficking is a $150 billion industry, claiming more than 24.9 million innocent victims each year, many of whom are women and children. Cases of trafficking often spike in major cities and around large-scale events. Unfortunately, trafficking at sporting events, like the most recent occurrence in Dallas is not uncommon. 

At mass gatherings like the Superbowl, there is an increased risk of sex trafficking. A reporter for ESPN writes that “many believe, although it has never been officially documented, that the Super Bowl is the largest sex-trafficking event in the world.” 

While a healthy sense of skepticism is natural when it comes to new technologies, facial recognition technology has proven to be successful in emergency situations like trafficking and acts of terrorism. In the case of the 15-year-old Texas girl, it set her free from a nightmarish and exploitative situation.