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The Role of Educators In Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is a silent crime. Every day men, women and children are forced into acts of labor or servatide and their rights as human beings are violated. The United States is one of the top three places for human trafficking, and in every state there are victims. It is estimated that the profit devived from human trafficking is more than 15 billion dollars per year.

Educators are the first line of defense to protect vulnerable children from trafficking. We all have an obligation to learn the signs of a victim or potential victim of human trafficking. The U.S. Department of Education released guidelines to help educators. These guidelines include noting risk factors that are likely to increase a child’s susceptibility to trafficking, as well as indicators to look for that you might not be aware of. These include:

  • A boyfriend or girlfriend who is much older
  • Signs of physical abuse
  • Anxious, fearful or depressed behavior
  • The desire not to leave school
  • Coached or rehearsed replies to personal questions
  • A sudden change in personal hygiene
  • Clothes not appropriate for the season
  • Promiscuity
  • Tattoos with brands or names

While the list of possible signs of human trafficking is much longer, the simple fact of the matter is that this problem grows larger each year. How can we help prevent this? Knowing the signs is not enough.

It is important that everyone in the community work together to end human trafficking. When educators, parents and students work hand in hand with local leaders and law enforcement to protect each other and have a zero tolerance attitude towards victim abuse, this crime decreases.

School districts have three main repsonsbilities when it comes to human trafficking:

  • Train staff members on how to recognize the signs of a potential victim
  • Educate students and community members on the risk factors and realities of trafficking
  • Create school wide policies for identifying and responding to suspected exploitation

If someone is exhibiting any of the signs of being trafficked, it’s important that it is reported right away. With many schools adopting a hybrid or virtual learning environment due to Covid-19, teachers have a unique opportunity to gain insight into a student’s home life which may be beneficial to the child’s wellbeing.

Is it possible to even prevent human trafficking before it start? The answer is yes. Teachers or school counselors are often the first one that a child goes to with a problem. Bus drivers and cafeteria workers also often notice when something doesn’t seem right. School resource officers and administrators can keep a watchful eye for behavior that seems abnormal including anyone lingering during the school day, watching the student. Above all else, educating everyone, especially students as to what to look for and why it’s so important to look for it will protect the highest risk population-  public school students.

Often, students are led into trafficking unknowingly. It might start off as a lower income child wanting to help the family financially. They are lured with promises of money, which is then withheld until certain conditions are met, usually sexual in nature. Other times, students without a proper parent figure might gravitate towards someone who makes them feel wanted, allowing themselves to be exploited because they don’t want to lose that feeling of belonging. Once the child becomes a victim, they usually stay out of fear, coercion or promises of their family being taken care of.

It is critical that we teach our youth to recognize these possible scenarios, as well as others that might seem suspicious or uncomfortable in nature so that they can avoid them. Open dialogue and reminders that they can come to you with any problems or concerns for themselves or other students is paramount.

Encouraging group activities and an environment of trust, acceptance and respect allows those in an unsafe environment the courage to seek help. It also allows those who might have made observations of a victim the chance to report their concerns without a feeling of being ignored, or retaliation.

As protocols are developed within your school be sure that all staff and students know them. Working together, we can keep our children safe.

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