Safe Harbor: Data-Driven Analytics Help Florida Track and Treat Child Trafficking Victims

It seems events such as the Super Bowl can have the effect of bringing out the best and the worst of society. In researching for stories of government using data for the public good, I stumbled upon an article entitled, “Super Bowl Prostitution Digitally Mapped by Data Trackers.” I did a quick scan and it triggered a thought, I have a personal friend, Kimberly Lewis Grabert, who knows a great deal about this topic because she is the State-wide Human Trafficking Prevention Director for the Florida Department of Children and Families. I PM’d (personal message) her on Facebook and immediately started peppering her with questions. We ended up on the phone and talked for over an hour and we were just getting started.

Yep, here’s a great story of how government is using data for the public good!

According to data from the Polaris Project, a leading organization in the global fight against human trafficking and modern-day slavery, Florida receives the 3rd highest rate of calls to the National Human trafficking hotline so the problem is high on the minds of those seeking to have an impact. A big change came when Florida altered its perspective and approach to the problem, treating children trapped in these dire circumstances as victims rather than criminals. A law called the Safe Harbor Act was put in place to ensure the safety of child victims who have been trafficked for sex, offering the victims a wealth of treatments. The Florida Safe Harbor Act was passed in 2012 and enacted January 2013 and accomplished several things. This legislation allows Law Enforcement to use their discretion regarding the arrest of minors for prostitution. Instead, the child can be turned over to the Florida Department of Children and Families who can work with the child’s family to provide services to stabilize the child and the family. In cases where no caregiver or parent is able to care for the child, the child can be deemed dependent and placed in a specialized safe environment for victims of commercial sexual exploitation.

So, what’s going on behind the scenes? Yes, that’s right, data. From the beginning, advocates for the victims recognized that power of quantifying the problem with factual information based on data. Such an approach had the desired effect of making the problem much more personal and real to decision makers with the power to make a difference. According to Kimberly, “We were able to use data to illustrate the impact of the problem to individual decision makers within the context of their jurisdictions. Many were surprised which galvanized them into action.”

Today, data is shared among numerous agencies, from law enforcement, to the judiciary, to human service agencies to help identify victims and provide an appropriate array of services around the State. Insights gleaned from data are used to justify funding, to determine the most effective allocation of resources and to educate other states around the country.

Originally focused on looking at data from a historical perspective, Kimberly was happy to share a more recent focus on using predictive analytics as a means to get ahead of the problem. The net effect has enabled the State to move from reactively responding to being more proactive in its efforts to eliminate human trafficking.

As I write this post, the State is putting the finishing touches on their latest report. Kimberly agreed to supply me with a copy. I am excited to see the State’s progress quantified so I can follow up with a another post.

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