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Human Trafficking Lab at USF St. Petersburg is now home to the entire state data collection

 Woman sits at a desk while talking on the phone.
Kailey Carter
/
University of South Florida TiP Lab
Shelly Wagers is an associate professor of criminology and researcher in the Trafficking in Persons Risk to Resilience Research Lab. A new law names the lab as the main state database for trafficking data.

A new law names the Trafficking in Persons Risk to Resilience Research Lab as the main storehouse for human trafficking-related data.

The University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus is now home to the state's main database for human trafficking data.

A new law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in May names the Trafficking in Persons Risk to Resilience Research Lab, or TiP Lab, as a sort of “data dump” for law enforcement and state agencies.

Shelly Wagers is an associate professor of criminology and lab researcher.

She said the collected data will help fill in gaps and allow researchers to understand the underlying reasons of why human trafficking persists.

“Different researchers with different questions can now have access to that aggregated, de-identified data to really advance the knowledge and understanding of the dynamics with the goal to eventually disrupt human trafficking as it happens,” she said.

Previously, trafficking information from law enforcement and other state agencies was slightly different and siloed within their own departments.

Wagers said this separation of information made it difficult to connect trafficking cases.

Aggregating the data in one place allows researchers to better see the broad view of trafficking.

“I kind of describe it as like puzzle pieces. You got a piece over here, you got a piece over here, but you can't see the whole picture," Wagers said. "So the idea of the TiP lab was to create a research hub.”

She said that this "whole picture" can also help agencies create better policies, and there’s no way to figure out which policies would be effective without it.

“Sometimes when we can't test that, we end up with unintended consequences that are harmful to the very groups that are being trafficked that we're trying to protect,” Wagers said.

She added that it's hard to know if their assumptions are accurate without the data in one place.

Wagers also directs the lab's BRIGHT (Bridging Resources and Info Gaps in Human Trafficking) Network.

That effort is a centralized, secure platform that uses the collected data to help case managers and non-profit groups provide services to survivors of trafficking.

"It's not about the band-aid of just giving services to survivors," Wagers said. "It is about learning and understanding (and) passing policies to address the underpinnings of what allows the human trafficking profit to sustain."

For more information, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at (888) 373-7888

 Sign sitting on table in office.
Kailey Carter
/
USF TiP Lab
The TiP Lab, or the Trafficking in Persons Risk to Resilience Lab, at USF St. Petersburg is now the state repository for human trafficking data.

Nothing about my life has been typical. Before I fell in love with radio journalism, I enjoyed a long career in the arts in musical theatre.