Concrete data on human trafficking is elusive, and Thursday, State Attorney Amira Fox was in Fort Myers to talk about her office's efforts to fill numerous gaps.
Fox said traditionally data on human trafficking has come from police reports and court records that don’t accurately portray the problem since the majority of cases go unreported.
As a consequence, those inaccurately low numbers make it more difficult to convince lawmakers to spend money to combat the problem.
To quantify the vastness of the human trafficking epidemic, the state attorney’s office for Florida’s 20th Judicial Circuit, launched the Human Trafficking Counts project. The initiative relies on data from those who provide services to victims within the jurisdiction that includes Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee Counties.
The project is advocated by Christy's Cause and is run by a member of the state attorney's office with Special Victims Unit Chief, Assistant State Attorney Francine Donnorummo.
Fox said her office started the project four years ago and six organizations were part of the pilot program.
"This has been a lot of work," Fox said. "It is not an easy task to go out in the community and ask people who are already overwhelmed and overburdened and underfunded, 'hey can you provide us with all this new stuff and congratulations there is no money involved we just really need you to do this for the community.”
Fox discussed the Human Trafficking Counts project at a meeting held by the nonprofit Florida Coalitition Against Human Trafficking. She told a room of about 50 people who work with victims in an array of capacities that the project was out of the pilot phase.
"We are now kicked off full circuit wide, past the pilot project," Fox said. "We’re trying to get everybody on board—all NGOs, all law enforcement that actually collect data that they can share with us."
The project uses special software to collect demographic and trafficking information, victim characteristics and methods of referrals to services and law enforcement.
Fox said the information provides concrete data that participating organizations can use to design effective service programs and apply for grants.
"Other jurisdictions are now interested in this so I see this as a very good start, we’re the first people in Florida to do it so I’m really, really proud of it," Fox said.
Fox said she wants to finely tune the Human Trafficking Counts project in Southwest Florida before presenting it to other districts.