Civic News

Virginia and Qlarion team up on a new system to monitor human trafficking

By increasing the amount of data available, the Commonwealth's Department of Criminal Justice Services hopes that it can track patterns and prevent future incidents.

The Virginia State Capitol, which sits near the building housing the state's Department of Criminal Justice Services in Richmond, Virginia.

(Photo via Facebook)

After having successfully collaborated with one nearby tech company on a  COVID-19 tracking platform, Virginia’s government is now partnering with another tech sector denizen to fight human trafficking in the state.

The Virginia Department for Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) and Qlarion, a Reston, Virginia data and analytics firm, teamed up to create the Virginia Analysis System for Trafficking (VAST).

VAST aims to tackle a problem whose limited figures are nonetheless harrowing. Virginia, according to data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline, reported 119 cases of human trafficking in 2020. For perspective: California had the most at 1,300, while Rhode Island was the lowest and reported. However, the National Institute of Justice has reported that human trafficking is largely undercounted.

VAST’s creators say that it aims to curb the issue within the state by providing additional data and insights into reported incidents. With VAST, organizations can share previously siloed information to assess trends in incidents, determine risk factors and understand how to better help victims.

“Existing data does not allow for sufficiently comprehensive analysis, strategic planning and response coordination,” Virginia’s annual report on human trafficking notes. “Overall, the data that the state currently maintains on human trafficking does not fully answer key questions that are necessary to appropriately assess the scope of the issue and to make informed, strategic decisions as part of a coordinated response to addressing the unique trafficking-related needs in different regions and localities.”

The platform, Qlarion and DCJS said, is community-focused and attempts to find trends at a local level while expanding across the state as necessary. Instances of human trafficking are hard to uncover, they said, as victims rarely self-report and no federal mandates require people to report suspected trafficking cases. States and localities also struggle to share the data they have, let alone analyze it.

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VAST’s system collects data on incidents, victims, offenders and arrests. It also lets users view maps of the details, broken down by county and state, and filter them according to categories like sex trafficking and forced labor. The system shows data on victim and offender demographics, relationships between offender and victims (like whether or not a victim was trafficked by a family member), drug possession, locations and events like conferences or sporting events.

With this, VAST can track trends like whether there are more cases around events, if increases in drug trafficking correlate with human trafficking and if victims of certain ages are more likely to be trafficked by a family member. The system additionally includes a dashboard for missing children in Virginia.

The creation of VAST, DCJS said, follows the success of the state’s Framework for Addiction Analysis and Community Transformation (FAACT) data collection platform. Virginia and GCOM, the Maryland-based company which acquired Qlarion last year, later collaborated to track COVID-19 data using FAACT.

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