Belmont Data Collaborative (BDC) hosted an all-day data hackathon on campus on April 2 in collaboration with Women in Technology of Tennessee (WiTT). Working with data from Engage Together, a non-profit dedicated to ending human trafficking and protecting the vulnerable, six groups of students and professional mentors set out to identify where those most vulnerable to human trafficking exist in Tennessee. With that knowledge, programs and services can be developed and deployed to identify and prevent human trafficking.
BDC Director Charlie Apigian said, “By working with Engage Together, we will be able to use data to make a difference in our community – specifically for human trafficking. These are the kinds of opportunities that can jumpstart data curiosity and more importantly, a great way to be part of a collaborative environment for change.”
The group of “hackers” were diverse, with nearly 20 professional mentors and about 50 students from Belmont, Middle Tennessee State University, Tennessee State University, Lipscomb University and Purdue Global.
The event was open to anyone interested. Belmont junior Emma Sharou had no prior experience with data but signed up for this event out of curiosity about how data analytics can be applied in a humanitarian way. She said Engage Together beautifully demonstrated how data is fundamental to the collaborative effort to make a difference.
“As a social work major, I have approached fighting human trafficking from a legislative and nonprofit perspective. I believe it is highly important to utilize all areas of expertise to tackle the evils of human trafficking,” said Sharou. “Fighting social injustice takes a collaborative effort from social workers, data analysts, social entrepreneurs, businesses, nonprofits and the entire community. Overall, the event was enlightening as it showed me how to think differently with data to tell a story. I am looking forward to combining data analytics with my social work profession.”
Currently, there are are no tools for tracking human trafficking incidents, so the group identified crimes proxy to human trafficking to create a metric for human trafficking crimes. They were then able to correlate specific activities and data to those crimes.
One particular takeaway was the data showed that in areas where annual checkups were high, human trafficking numbers were low. Ashleigh Chapman, president and CEO at Engage Together, said a victim is seen 18 times by someone who could help them, one of those being during an annual checkup. One solution could be to hold more annual checkups in areas where human trafficking activity is higher, such as in homeless shelters. These new opportunities, using data to identify problems, are critical in proposing solutions.
Sponsors of the event included Belmont, MTSU, Tractor Supply, Slalom and CGI.