Learn to Code! In the Human Trafficking World, It’s a Great Idea!

– By Mitzi Perdue

We’ve all heard the snarky advice, usually given to people in the media whose jobs have disappeared: “Learn to code!”  But for those who have survived human trafficking, this normally unkind advice turns out to be almost unbelievably useful and valuable.

Survivors of trafficking today can have $90,000 a year jobs, thanks to learning to code. Jessica Hubley and Laura Hackney, co-founders of a coding training program and the software development company, AnnieCannons, pioneered this approach to helping survivors of trafficking. 

For a trafficking survivor, programming skills can bring economic security. And this means they’re no longer attractive prey for a trafficker.

The story behind AnnieCannons is interesting.  Hubley and Hackney met at Stanford and found that they shared an interest in combatting human trafficking. As part of their research efforts, the two women got to know the deeper reality of survivors of trafficking.

Hubley and Hackney quickly realized that any job training available to the women they met in the shelters was way below what many of the trafficked women were capable of.  

The two women realized that many of the trafficking survivors they met had two of the most important characteristics of successful coders: grit and smarts. The two friends calculated that if the survivors could learn to code, they could be making $75 an hour – or even much more. 

And yet too often, the only vocational training available to the trafficking survivors were $15 an hour jobs, such as cooking.  Hubley and Hackney decided to try to change things. With help from a couple of visionary philanthropists, they set up a coding bootcamp, taking formerly trafficked women from digital illiteracy to proficiency in coding and web design. 

Commercial coding bootcamps cost about $25,000 for about 10 weeks of instruction. AnnieCannons needs about a $10,000 donation to take a survivor through a 6 month bootcamp, but after completing it, a survivor can make $60,000 a year and, through practice and advanced workshops, increase that income to well over six figures.  Even better, 90% of the women who start the program complete it and end up with jobs, most of them working for AnnieCannons.

Learning to code isn’t for everyone. However, as Hubley points out “Almost everyone with an IQ of 130 or more can do it.  Someone who’s been a B-plus student can generally do it. The big requirement is sticking with it and practicing.”

In Hubley’s experience, survivors have already demonstrated grit in abundance just by surviving. “They were hacking life just to continue living. They survived when people were telling them every day that they were worthless. The grit that it took just to get through any day makes them extraordinary.”

However, grit by itself wasn’t enough to escape a life of being trafficked.  Hubley discovered  that, “Every single person sitting in one of our classes had already been rescued and sent to a shelter three to seven times. They’d tell us they had been rescued, sent to a shelter, and had ended up re-trafficked because they believed their traffickers, who said that they were worthless. When they faced zero viable economic opportunities, they had no reason to believe otherwise.”

Knowing how to code interrupted this cycle. Hubley points out that, “When they have economic stability on their own, all this changes.”

In the six years that AnnieCannons has been in existence, 51 survivors have gone through the program and are now economically independent. They can now think of themselves as professional women, not trafficking victims. Coding helps give them their lives back.

 In 2020, AnnieCannons is tripling the number of classes they teach.

If you or your business needs coding services, including web design, visit https://anniecannons.com.  If you’d like to sponsor a survivor scholarship, you can make 501(c)3 donations at anniecannons.org. Either way, you’ll be helping a trafficking survivor begin her new life.  

About The Author

Mitzi Perdue is a businesswoman, author, and Founder of Win This Fight, Stop Human Trafficking Now. She holds a B.A. degree with honors from Harvard University and a Master's from George Washington University. She's a past president of the 40,000 member American Agri-Women, and she was a U.S. Delegate to the United Nations Conference on Women in Nairobi. She was also a Commissioner for the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science. Her Scripps Howard column, The Environment and You, was for years the most widely syndicated environmental column in the U.S.

She is the founder and president of “Win This Fight! Stop Human Trafficking Now,” an organization that raises funds and awareness for other anti-trafficking initiatives.