Fighting human trafficking with a short code

When under control of their captors, human trafficking victims have few options for contacting authorities. Polaris developed the Twilio-powered BeFree short code to give captives an easy, discreet way to reach out for help via text.



Texts to the BeFree hotline since 2013


Human trafficking cases reported in 2016 through BeFree

Human trafficking captives are constantly monitored. They seldom get a moment alone, and when they do, it’s rarely more than a few seconds. That leaves little time to call for help on a mobile phone, which risks alerting their captors. Text messaging, however, is feasible. So Polaris chose SMS as a fast, safe, and discreet way for captives to seek help.

Twilio Products

  • Programmable SMS
  • Short Code SMS

“Our research with child sex trafficking survivors has shown that many of them use text as their primary form of communication and that when under the control of their trafficker, they were in need of more accessible, discreet forms of communication to seek help.”

Julie Cordua, executive director, Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children

Giving survivors the power to communicate with SMS

In early 2013, Polaris teamed up with Thorn,, and Twilio to launch BeFree (233733), a Twilio-powered short code for human trafficking captives. The code created a secure channel for direct communications between victims and rescue teams.

Polaris decided on BeFree for the short code because it is simple and easily remembered, making it a good choice for widespread promotion on signs and billboards. Twilio supplies the BeFree short code and integrates with Salesforce Service Cloud on SMS message delivery.

Now, one quick text to BeFree automatically connects to Polaris’s National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) hotline. The NHTRC gathers information from the BeFree short code and uses it to coordinate with law enforcement or even facilitate rescues. The hotline then erases the text for added discretion.

Saving lives one at a time

As of the end of 2016, the BeFree hotline had received 4,500 texts in its four years of existence. Of those, 805 cases were classified as showing moderate to high signs of human trafficking.

By harnessing the power of communications and technology, Twilio is helping Polaris free people from modern slavery. “This is one of those times that affirms our conviction that software can change lives for the better,” says Jeff Lawson, CEO of Twilio.

Learn more about other ways you can help stop human trafficking and about BeFree, Polaris, and the NHTRC at


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