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Master’s student seeks to help end human trafficking

Master’s student seeks to help end human trafficking

The “Safe Move” bracelet, designed by MPH graduate student Kwynn Gonzalez-Pons, has the potential to save countless lives around the world by helping law enforcement agencies locate missing children and adults.

Master’s student seeks to help end human trafficking
February 26
11:51 2016

Samantha Sullivan | Staff Writer

@SamElizabethan

When a second-year master’s student at UNT’s School of Public Health joined the hundreds of runners for Dallas’ annual Color Run, she never expected wearing a bracelet to track her place throughout the race would spark an idea for an ingenious and life-saving device.

The Safe Move bracelet, created by , has the potential of significantly reducing the number of victims lost to human trafficking by tracking a victim’s location. The Louisiana native became interested in the issue of human trafficking after watching a documentary on Netflix titled “Playground,” and is actively involved in public health volunteering for women’s centers and human trafficking centers in D-FW and Austin.

Last year there were 433 reported human trafficking cases  in Texas alone, according to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. There are hundreds of thousands of victims in the U.S., adding to the 20.9 million victims of human trafficking worldwide.

“When I first thought of the idea, I didn’t think about taking it anywhere, but after I won the creative innovations contest, students came up to me and said ‘So, you’re going to make it happen right?’” Pons said. When UNT’s Health Science Center held a Creative Innovations contest for Public Health week in April of 2014, Pons decided to pursue her idea for Safe Move. Shlesma Chhetri was responsible for putting together a weeklong event for the celebration and Creative Health Innovations Contest.

When UNT’s Health Science Center held a Creative Innovations contest for Public Health week in April of 2014, Pons decided to pursue her idea for Safe Move. Shlesma Chhetri was responsible for putting together a weeklong event for the celebration and Creative Health Innovations Contest.

“The idea behind the event was to provide a platform for students where they could present, as a group or individually, an original idea that would help make a positive impact in the field of public health,” Chhetri said. “Based on the respective presentations, Kwynn’s idea was selected as the winner.”

Pons said she noticed how inconspicuous the chip in the Color Run bracelets was and she liked how they weren’t permanently attached to the wearer. She began to form the first images in her mind for the Safe Move Device.

She spoke with an executive at Origin GPS who felt touched by her concept and gave her advice. Pons said the device would be placed in numerous areas that are hotspots for human trafficking, such as airports, bus stops and truck stops, where victims can easily access it.

“This is probably one of the only places they’d be able to get some separation from their trafficker,” Pons said. “There would need to be a lot of cooperation with law enforcement to make this a success, but ideally, the bracelet/device would be activated by the victim who needs an immediate escape.”

While the Color Run was the catalyst for her concept, Pons said the technology she envisions for her Safe Move Device will be completely different than the bracelet she wore during the race. An important distinction is that the Color Run uses bracelets with radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology, which enhances the runner’s experience by making it easy to wear and activate the device during the run and share their images and location with friends online.

Pons’s device would be used for completely different purposes. Safe Move would use GPS technology as opposed to an RFID chip, because GPS works better indoors. Once victims activate the device, it would then send a signal or alert to an app that law enforcement would have access to, prompting a response and rescue effort. The bracelet isn’t meant to be carried around or kept for an extended period of time and would primarily be for immediate use.

Candace Robledo, School of Public Health assistant professor, said she believes Pons’ concept has already had an impact on professors and students.

“Kwynn, through her interest, has helped to educate faculty and students within the School of Public Health on human trafficking, a formidable and growing public health problem in North Texas,” Robledo said. “Her initiative to address this problem outside the classroom is admirable.”

According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s 2013 data Texas ranks No. 2 for human trafficking crime.

After submitting an abstract to the Social Impact Lab competition, Pons cemented her spot in the Early Innovation Category at the Global Health and Innovative Conference at Yale this April. She will be given five minutes to pitch her innovation to CEOs and entrepreneurs who will help advance her concept.

“It’ll be a great opportunity to get priceless advice and network with other people passionate about helping others and creating innovative products,” Pons said.

Featured Image: The “Safe Move” bracelet, designed by MPH graduate student Kwynn Gonzalez-Pons, has the potential to save countless lives around the world by helping law enforcement agencies locate missing children and adults. Courtesy | Jill Johnson

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