USF creates first centralized human trafficking incident database

A new lab at the University of South Florida looks to pinpoint human trafficking incidents down to the neighborhoods and zip codes in Tampa Bay and the state of Florida.

A central database of human trafficking doesn’t exist, so researchers at the new USF Trafficking in Persons Risk to Resilience Research Lab in St. Petersburg created one that will pick up trends on who’s being exploited and where it’s happening.

Florida ranks third in the nation for human trafficking, which happens to children and adults, men and women. The sex trafficking case of R&B singer R. Kelly brought the crime to everyone’s attention.

"I think also when we read the details of the R. Kelly case, it’s really atrocious and disturbing, and I just want people to know that that is typical," said Joan Reid, a USF criminology professor and USF TIP Lab director.

Reid said the lab got feedback from anti-trafficking stakeholders on needs, and survivor advocates told researchers they want to see where human trafficking is happening down to the neighborhood and zip code.

"So law enforcement has data, there’s court data, department of child and families has data, department of health has data, but it’s siloed. So there’s not a comprehensive picture of what’s going on," said Reid.

She said the lab is working with Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Pasco counties on sharing that data, showing how human trafficking really happens anywhere.

"There is no human trafficking data center, and so that’s one of the main goals of the lab is to establish that," Reid said.

Advocates also want to update how victims get help. Right now, Reid said officers spend time going down a call list. So the lab plans to develop a way for agencies to see what shelters are available in real-time. 

"It’s life and death really because for those survivors if they don’t have that access to services that they need at that moment, they’re easily pulled back into trafficking and re-exploited," said Reid.

USF researchers at the lab said they are working with Florida legislators to get a bill passed that would create a human trafficking database for the state.