"This is an issue and we need to be protecting these kids.”By Andrea Alvarez

Florida ranks third in the U.S. based on the number of human trafficking hotline reports. So, the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg Campus just opened a new lab devoted to studying human trafficking research in the state. The research lab aims to transform Tampa Bay into a region that’s resilient to human trafficking.

“Concerns about human trafficking began in 2003 when I was the Rape Crisis Counselor for Pinellas County,” said Joan Reid, PhD who now serves as the Director of the Trafficking in Persons – Risk to Resiliency Research Lab. “At that point we hardly even talked about human trafficking in the state, in the nation. This is an issue and we need to be protecting these kids.”

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When you think of a research lab, you think of test tubes and long white lab coats. So while the new location may not look like your typical lab make no mistake, the people behind the research are dissecting the issue one study at a time.

“A couple of offices. A place for students to come to use our laptops,” explained Dr. Reid. She has pioneered some of the very first research on human trafficking in Florida.

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“I conducted the first study on U.S. children who are trafficked in our area in 2007. All that research was compiled and reported the U.S. Congress. All of a sudden people were aware,” she said.

This year alone, more than 800 human trafficking cases have been reported in the state of Florida. And since 2007, more than 4,000 cases have been identified according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. But starting with experiment one, Dr. Reid plans to put an end to those statistics.

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“We interviewed over a hundred human trafficking organizations asking them, ‘what do you need’. And so that’s what we want to provide – to be able to assist those that are on the frontlines,” she said.