Bringing Light to the Darkness of Human Trafficking (Trafficking in Persons)

A grant-funded Ohio study integrated various government data sources to reveal previously unknown victims of human trafficking.

Identifying human trafficking victims not reached by existing government, public safety and judicial systems is a challenge, but a collaboration by the Ohio Department of Public Safety’s Office of Criminal Justice Services (OCJS) with the University of Cincinnati has found a way to integrate government data sources to help.

For the recently completed study, “Estimating the Prevalence of Human Trafficking in Ohio,” researchers examined data from 14 distinct sources that included child welfare, law enforcement, legal and juvenile justice agencies, from 2014 through 2016, to better identify human trafficking victims in the sample set, according to Forensic Magazine.

The study found Ohio had 1,032 victims of human trafficking and 4,209 potential individuals considered to be at risk of trafficking victimization during the study period.

The study was funded by a $100,000 OCJS grant and is the first of its kind to use individual case records to identify human trafficking victims as defined by the federal Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000.

This study demonstrates that it is imperative that Ohio’s child welfare and juvenile justice systems are equipped with appropriate resources to identify and serve victims of human trafficking and the youth who are at risk to be victimized,” said Governor Mike DeWine.

The information was extrapolated into a single database, which included the process of identifying and removing duplicate victim records. In the past, similar studies have relied on poll samplings, self-reporting in surveys and computer models to arrive at their estimates.

“Obtaining reliable data is essential to implementing informed anti-trafficking policy,” said Sophia Papadimos, state anti-trafficking coordinator. “The University of Cincinnati and collaborating partners have equipped the state with new prevalence estimates that will help guide Ohio’s human trafficking response efforts.”

The study estimates of known victims and at-risk individuals are considered to be conservative, according to the story, because human trafficking victims rarely self-identify. Also, agency restrictions made some records unavailable to the research team.

Valerie Anderson, UC assistant professor of criminal justice and the study’s principal investigator, said the findings include an inventory of data capacity and tracking capabilities and provide insights in developing tools and systems that can help public safety and government agencies to better identify and respond to human trafficking victims.

The researchers recommended ways the state’s government and public safety agencies could optimize data collection, including:

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