Data Emerges as a Tool to Combat Human Trafficking

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Human Trafficking Data Model from Belmont University's Data Collaborative
This map from the Belmont University’s Data Collaborative shows human trafficking vulnerability rankings for various parts of Tennessee. (SOURCE: Belmont University)

An investigation by The Independent, published yesterday, shows that alleged sex trafficking at Red Roof Inn hotels has reached “epidemic levels.” According to The Independent reporters, hundreds of sex trafficking victims are filing lawsuits against the massive hotel chain and its franchisees, accusing them of turning a blind eye and profiting from human trafficking abuse.

Meanwhile, other organizations are joining forces to prevent sex trafficking before it happens.

Belmont University Joins Up With Engage Together

Belmont University’s Data Collaborative (BDC) announced it has teamed up with Engage Together, an organization fighting human trafficking, to create new data-driven solutions. Over the last 18 months, this partnership has made a big difference in Tennessee and plans to expand across the country. Working with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s (TBI) Human Trafficking Task Force and the Tennessee Counter Trafficking Alliance (TCTA), Engage Together found that precise data is needed to show how traffickers exploit community weaknesses.

A Visual Glimpse Into Human Trafficking Vulnerabilities

BDC developed a tool that visualizes these weaknesses along with community response information, providing a clear view of risks and resources. This tool has motivated stakeholders and attracted federal attention. U.S. Senators Marsha Blackburn and Amy Klobuchar proposed a bill to create a National Human Trafficking database to potentially use this model nationwide.

Ashleigh Chapman, CEO of Engage Together, highlighted the tool’s significant impact and its potential to improve data collection and response strategies.

“I had been searching for a way that we could accurately render the data in such a way that it would showcase which communities are at higher risk for trafficking and why. Marrying that picture against our assessments of responses at a community-level, well, that’s powerful. That’s transformative really.” 

An Eye Toward Expansion

The partnership is expanding to other states like Florida, Texas, and Montana, and is seeking a federal grant for a five-year study on trafficking survivors’ histories in Tennessee. Additionally, they aim to address gaps in healthcare since 90% of trafficking victims in the U.S. visit local healthcare settings without being identified. Plans are being made to train healthcare providers to recognize potential victims.

The Power of Academia

Chapman stressed that sharing information is just the first step and that Engage Together encourages active participation in finding solutions. This partnership shows how important universities are in addressing social issues through research, resources, and community collaboration. As this project grows, it promises major progress in fighting human trafficking, demonstrating the power of collaboration between academia, non-profits, and government agencies.

New Bill Aims to Create National Human Trafficking Database

Senator Marsha Blackburn has introduced a new bill to create a national database for human trafficking at the FBI. This database will gather data from all states, connect with organizations that fight human trafficking, and encourage state law enforcement to share their information. The goal is to help identify and convict human traffickers more effectively.

The National Human Trafficking Database Act will make a public database with a risk assessment score for each county. It will also list anti-trafficking organizations and show the number of prosecutions in each state.

Trafficking Data as a Prevention Tool

The bill includes a federal grant program to help agencies collect and report trafficking data. The risk assessment idea comes from the successful program in Tennessee by Belmont University and Engage Together. Blackburn worked on this bill with Senator Amy Klobuchar. They both believe that having better data and tools is crucial to preventing human trafficking.

$50 Million in Federal Funding

ast year, Blackburn and Klobuchar pushed for $50 million in federal funding to help state and local governments and nonprofits stop the trafficking of women and girls across the U.S. border. The U.S. State Department estimates that 14,500 to 17,500 people are trafficked into the country each year.

The bill has support from several Tennessee organizations, like Thistle Farms and Restore Corps, and national groups like Shared Hope International.

Engage Together Launches South Florida Human Trafficking Prevention Project

The Engage Together South Florida Project, launched this summer, focuses on fighting human trafficking by providing resources and support to local communities. The project follows three phases: research and data collection, reviewing findings, and community mobilization.

It aims to highlight vulnerabilities and improve responses to trafficking. Reports and tools developed by the project help identify risks and resources, encouraging collaboration and strategic planning. The project also plans to train healthcare providers to recognize trafficking victims and address gaps in healthcare support.

For more information, visit Engage Together South Florida.