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Student Human Trafficking Data Project Moves to Statewide Effort

News Type Public Address

The Rapid Innovation student project team included (top row, from left) Haelie Egbert, Edina Kovacs and Maddie Young and (bottom row, from left) Elijah Baker and Sarah Handau.

By Joan Slattery Wall 

Endeavors to combat human trafficking can face barriers related to its nature as a hidden crime. Advocates for change look for variables that could increase identification of people at risk in order to address underlying problems. 

Students in a John Glenn College of Public Affairs course last year developed a framework for tracking the risk factors that is now in development for implementation at the state level.  

Maddie Young, former Rapid Innovation for Public Impact course student 

Maddie Young signed up for the Rapid Innovation for Public Impact course, created and taught by Elizabeth Newton, director of the Glenn College’s Battelle Center for Science, Engineering and Public Policy, as an elective for her degree in industrial and systems engineering. 

“During my time at OSU, I enjoyed the challenges that came with taking classes that would have normally been out of my comfort zone,” said Young, who graduated in 2022 and this summer started a position as analyst, cyber operations professional, at Nationwide. “This course in ‘Rapid Innovation’ sounded like a challenge in problem solving. I had selected the human trafficking topic for a project because it was a topic I wasn't familiar with, but it seemed like a project that would have an impact on, potentially, hundreds of people in Ohio.” 

Christi Scott Bartman, Glenn College Instructor and Director of Eyes Up Appalachia 

Glenn College instructor Christi Scott Bartman, director of Eyes Up Appalachia, an anti-human trafficking initiative operated through the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio as their fiscal agent, was asked to be a problem sponsor for the course. She requested that the spring 2021 team devise a way to identify populations in Appalachian Ohio who are at risk for trafficking. 

“It’s difficult to establish prevalence numbers of people trafficked. But there are a consistent group of risk factors that make someone more vulnerable, including drug use, runaways, poverty, interaction with more than one government service such as children services, etc., and those numbers are public knowledge,” Bartman said. “If I can map those vulnerabilities in specific counties, I can direct resources, prevention efforts and programming work to areas where they will be more effective.” 

Young and her teammates worked on the project, ARIA, or At Risk in Appalachia, with Bartman and David Corliss, a business statistician who also runs a nonprofit, Peace-Work, an all-volunteer cooperative of statisticians and data scientists applying statistical methods to issue-driven social advocacy. The students conducted about 40 interviews with contacts that had experience working with human trafficking programs and survivors at state and local levels to determine risk factors, and then they examined the prevalence of those factors in Ohio Appalachian counties to produce a heat map that could predict which might be highest determinants of human trafficking in which counties. 

“During the first two weeks of the class I did feel overwhelmed. On Day One we were expected to dive headfirst into ideas to solve the problem we were given, reach out to the contacts provided by our sponsors and just be all in on this project. The course truly focuses on the ‘rapid’ in Rapid Innovation!” Young said, noting that once the team settled into a routine, she gained skills in effective interviewing and in understanding automation. 

“I cant say enough about the ARIA student team and the Rapid Innovation for Public Impact course. The human-centered design approach was perfect for the problem I gave them. Their initial approach to stakeholders and their integration at all levels of the project design enabled us to get the buy-in we needed to take the project statewide and make it scalable and sustainable after the semester ended,” Bartman said. “That would not have been possible without the solid prototype the students designed and the interest they generated throughout the community involved in anti-human trafficking efforts.

The students’ efforts will go a long way toward moving our approach to human trafficking from reactionary to preventative.

Christi Scott Bartman
Glenn College Instructor and Director of Eyes Up Appalachia

The students’ results were included in 2021 recommendations from the Ohio Attorney General’s Ohio Human Trafficking Commission Research/Gap Analysis Subcommittee, of which Bartman was co-chair. Now, a team consisting of Eyes Up Appalachia, the University of Toledo Human Trafficking and Social Justice Institute, Ohio Alliance for Population Health, and Ohio University Russ College of Engineering and Technology aims to enhance and expand the ARIA team’s work to all of Ohio’s 88 counties.  

Felipe Aros-Vera, associate professor of industrial and systems engineering at Ohio University, was surprised at the students’ work because he had been conducting similar research. He now is expanding upon the ARIA framework to determine the degrees at which the risk factors would affect the risk for human trafficking. The Ohio team also is investigating funding sources to scale up the project across the state. 

“In the short term, we want to be able to provide tools for any decision-maker in the state of Ohio who is interested in understanding and looking at the issue of human trafficking so they can look at data, download data, visualize data, customize data,” said Aros-Vera. He expects to accomplish that by the end of the year. 

Next steps: Raise awareness of human trafficking in Ohio and reach out to decision-makers to start advocating for policy changes and resource allocation.  

“We want to move the state from a reactionary approach to a proactive approach,” Bartman said. “That’s the bottom line.” 

Learn more about the Rapid Innovation for Public Impact course