Human trafficking is one of the darkest and most complex issues facing our world today, and a complex issue requires a multifaceted approach to fully address it. At Refuge for Women Pittsburgh, we would like to acknowledge and honor the organizations who are working diligently to help women in need by utilizing unique perspectives and talents. This first spotlight article focuses on The Asservo Project, a nonprofit organization that aims to combat human trafficking by rescuing and supporting victims.
While The Asservo Project officially launched in 2017, the stirrings to aid in fight against human trafficking started long before then for the Founder and CEO Joseph Sweeney. Sweeney has been serving the public for much of his life, working first as a Pittsburgh police officer for about 10 years. After the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11th 2001, Sweeney started working for Homeland Security as an explosive security specialist. This job took Sweeney all over the country to conduct trainings and investigations regarding national security threats which led to Sweeney making connections “with almost every bomb squad in the United States” as well as connections with local law enforcements.
Sweeney’s success in this position then led him to a job with the United States Department of State where his fight against terrorism was moved the global level. It was in this position that Sweeney had a conversation with a colleague that would open his eyes to the issue of human trafficking. This colleague explained he was in the process of rescuing American children who had been kidnapped and taken overseas. This conversation then launched Sweeney into a deep dive of research where he discovered the global issue of human trafficking and exploitation. Like many people who work to end human trafficking, once Sweeney was aware of the issue, he couldn’t turn away from the fight.
By the end of 2016, Sweeney decided he had done enough research, and it was time to take action. “God put it right in my forehead,” Sweeney said in regards to helping the cause and rescuing victims.
By February of 2017, it became apparent to Sweeney that there were no organizations contributing the skills that Sweeney felt he and his colleagues could: cyber surveillance. From his own experience as a police officer and conversations with others in the field, Sweeney knew that law enforcement often did not have the time or money that it takes to properly analyze and investigate online activity around trafficking. Additionally, Sweeney was aware of the fact that victims will often not confide in law enforcement about their situation given the strong connection and loyalty they may feel to their trafficker. This is the need that Sweeney decided he could fill with an organization made up of cyber analysts as well as experienced volunteers who could travel the world and work with local government agencies to rescue the victims. With strong support from law enforcements and grassroots funders, The Asservo Project was launched in 2017.
Asservo is Latin for watch over or guard, and that is exactly what The Asservo Project team does for victims of human trafficking. The Asservo Project utilizes cutting-edge technology to assist in gathering information about victims’ whereabouts to help governments all over the world. However, their mission does not end there as they are committed to helping victims and survivors’ recovery and healing process by partnering with other organizations to provide assistance in any way they can. This has come in the form of offering financial support, providing background checks for organization, and even providing security protection when necessary. Additionally, they are currently in the process of developing a recorded tip line for information regarding victims and traffickers.
For anyone who is feeling moved to help in the fight against human trafficking, Joseph Sweeney recommends starting with learning about the issue itself and what it looks like in this modern world. It’s important to know that everyone can play in role in helping victims and survivors of human trafficking.
The evils of human trafficking spread far and wide across the world. The statistics are daunting, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the entirety of the issue. However, as Joseph Sweeney assuredly stated, “We don’t need much to keep going. We keep going no matter what.” For The Asservo Project, a “success” in the field literally means saving lives. And when that is the mission, you never give up.
To learn more about The Asservo Project, please visit https://www.theasservoproject.org/