This article originally appeared and was published on AOL.com
According to law enforcement, there are more than 1.5 million victims of human trafficking in the United States alone — and a method the sinister criminals use to sell children has been revealed.
Child sex traffickers are using previously harmless emoji symbols to lure their young victims, KDVR reports.
Investigators found that the symbols are found all over websites like Backpage.com, where pimps are known to sell teen and pre-teen girls and boys for sex.
According to KDVR, pimps can’t use the actual ages of the children or call them “young” online or the website would flag them. Some started using “fresh” or “sweet,” but police easily figured out that code.
Masters student Jessica Whitney found a way to crack the disturbing emoji code.
“They’re a lot harder to detect in a system because you can’t just search the keyword,” she said.
She and her professor, Murray Jenney, shared a few of the code words.
They told KDVR that cherry means virgin, airplane means new in town and the number of rose emojis in a post symbolizes the price.
The crown emoji indicates that the child emoji and — perhaps most disturbing — the growing heart emoji lets the buyer know that the girl or boy is childlike and still has growing to do.
Homeless teenagers are often targeted by sex traffickers, so organizations aim to keep teens at risk in a safe place.
“It is very difficult to especially get younger (kids) who are being trafficked under 18 because they are very well protected and have a very hard time getting away,” Kendall Rames of Denver’s Urban Peak organization told KDVR.
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