Your School's Role In Trafficking Prevention
Trusting the care and education of your child is stressful. While some parents have the choice which school their child attends, not all of us have that luxury. However, whether public or private, each school has a responsibility to not only the parents, but also the kids to ensure their education, their safety, and their overall well-being. That responsibility is something no school takes lightly.
Schools often struggle with the difficult balance of appropriate content versus influential exposure. Should we educate our students about the dangers of coercion and exploitation? Is it important to discuss real life issues, like depression and anxiety, especially in instances of childhood trauma? We could easily find school officials to argue either side, each believing they've got the best intentions for their students.
It can be a difficult balance, a tricky rope to walk.
This is where some schools fail. An ugly topic like human trafficking, it can be easily dismissed for fear of misrepresentation of the school’s demographics or numbers of crime related incidents. Other barriers may halt education about this topic as well, such as parental approval, language sensitivities, fear of exposure, and sometimes just admitting there is a problem.
Yet other schools find a way to tip toe gracefully through the difficulty, steadily balancing awareness of tough topics with age-appropriate messaging. And through these conversations, students may for the first time hear about a school’s support staff of social workers or counselors equipped to help them through their circumstances. In some extreme cases, a student may require immediate care or intervention, but is not aware that the school has a safety plan in place. A simple discussion about what they, or a friend, may be experiencing and the resources available to them via their school or partnering agencies can be enough that students feel safe to come forward to claim the life they deserve, free of abuse, exploitation and coercion.
Some very common associative indicators of abuse or exploitation are:
Fear of Authority (Especially Male Authority)
Physical Signs of Abuse
Easily Startled or Constantly Hyper Vigilant
While some of these indicators can be related to a typical high school experience, it’s important to note that they serve as risk factors, as well; those who may already be dealing with issues of depression, low self-esteem and anxiety may be more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Understanding that prevention is just as important as intervention is a major step in creating a more stable and supportive environment at school.
1 in 6 runaways in the United States becomes a victim of human trafficking. Teenagers who exhibit the indicators mentioned above or are abused (physically, sexually, or emotionally), have a much higher likelihood of running away and ending up being controlled, abused, or even trafficked.
Schools can be a massive part of the solution in preventing these incidents by addressing the indicators. Fear of losing a student to running away, abuse, or exploitation should be a great motivator for change in the way we discuss and address these tough topics with our students. Every topic, including human trafficking, can be presented in an age-appropriate way that will also inform the students of the support available.
After one of our discussions in a high school, a young girl came forward as a victim. When asked why she came forward now, she responded with this simple statement:
“This was the first time someone described what I was going through and gave me hope that I could get out of it.”
As a community, we need to implore our teachers, faculty, and staff to educate our students about these tough topics. We need to establish a support system for those in need. No young person should feel alone, and it is our job, together, to remind them there is hope.
We are here to help.
If you are a school and are looking to establish a protocol for identifying students at-risk and a safety plan once a student does come forward, please contact us. We can walk you through an individualized plan and network of professional services and resources to ensure you will have a protocol in place, should any incident arise.