BRIGHT Network to connect human trafficking victims with critical care and resources to transition into new life
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (Feb. 22, 2023) — An online platform developed by researchers at the University of South Florida, in close collaboration with anti-trafficking professionals and survivors, will help victims of human trafficking escape their situations and get back on their feet by streamlining efforts to connect them with organizations and resources in Tampa Bay.
The BRIGHT (Bridging Resources and Information Gaps in Human Trafficking) Network is a centralized, secure platform that will allow professionals in anti-trafficking organizations to track, coordinate and provide resources such as health care and safe housing to individuals. The service can be used by law enforcement and social workers as they seek to assist victims of labor and sex trafficking.
Initial resources and services on the network, which is a project of the USF Trafficking in Persons - Risk to Resilience Lab, include housing, health, mental health and legal. Additional resources such as clothing, food and employment will come online later in the year. All are highly vetted for trust and safety.
“There was a community need to develop such a network to help human trafficking victims, survivors and the anti-trafficking community better locate and find the essential services that are usually needed right away,” said Shelly Wagers, a criminology professor at the USF St. Petersburg campus and lead researcher of the BRIGHT Network.
Currently, when law enforcement officials encounter trafficking victims during the line of duty, they may not be sure who to connect with to help the individual or what resources such as shelters are available. Since for many trafficking victims it may take multiple attempts to detach them from their situation, connecting them with the right people and resources at the right time is key.
Community partners say the BRIGHT Network could be vital in making those connections.
“This platform can make it easier for a victim of human trafficking to leave the life and their trafficker” said Kathleen Kempke, client services compliance administrator for the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay. “It enables someone to receive support and resources, as they move from place to place, without having to retell their story. The constant support from those resources along with access to safe shelter, employment assistance and mental and physical health providers will make a huge difference for someone having options to successfully leave human trafficking.”
The network, which also involves criminology researchers on the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus, was recently awarded a $150,000 grant from Hillsborough County to develop an initial pilot project. A $25,000 grant from the Mel Greene Foundation also helped in launching this project.
For the pilot, five local organizations - Created Women, Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, Justice Restoration Center, Selah Freedom and United Abolitionists – will utilize the platform to coordinate their work.
Use of the network will not only strengthen the anti-trafficking community, but collect key data based on requests by victims. Data collected will provide concrete information on the scope of the trafficking problem for the region, demographics on victims and survivors, and their most pressing needs. Such vital data can inform local programs and legislation.
“It will help us paint a more complete picture of the human trafficking situation in Tampa Bay, including what types of services are needed, what might not be available and what groups are missing to assist in helping victims and disrupting human trafficking,” Wagers said.
The BRIGHT Network came about after extensive consultations with anti-trafficking organizations and others in the community. While the secure platform was being built, an advisory board and development team consisting of anti-trafficking professionals and survivors informed the network.
In time, USF researchers plan to build out the network so human trafficking victims and survivors can have direct access to the portal. And if all goes well, they hope to replicate the BRIGHT Network in other regions of Florida, with the goal of becoming a state-wide platform to assist survivors and combat trafficking.
About the University of South Florida
The University of South Florida, a high-impact global research university dedicated to student success, generates an annual economic impact of more than $6 billion. Over the past 10 years, no other public university in the country has risen faster in U.S. News and World Report’s national university rankings than USF. Serving more than 50,000 students on campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee, USF is designated as a Preeminent State Research University by the Florida Board of Governors, placing it in the most elite category among the state’s 12 public universities. USF has earned widespread national recognition for its success graduating under-represented minority and limited-income students at rates equal to or higher than white and higher income students. USF is a member of the American Athletic Conference. Learn more at www.usf.edu.