Victims of human trafficking – modern slavery – perform labor or commercial sex acts by force, fraud or coercion. Many victims are children.
While human trafficking occurs nationwide and to people of all socioeconomic levels, runaway and homeless youth are among the vulnerable, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
"Numerous exploiters have talked about the fact that they do target schools," says Jeneé Littrell, administrator of safe and supportive schools for the San Mateo County Office of Education in California. "It's a place where young children are, and young children are vulnerable."
Teens can go through many typical stages that could put them at risk, like starting to seek external validation as well as independence from the family, says Littrell, who was the lead author of "Human Trafficking in America's Schools," a 2015 guide from the Department of Education.
It's critical for schools to educate staff and students about human trafficking, Littrell says. There could be student victims or others being recruited. Schools are filled with caring adults who have relationships with students who can help young people in need of assistance, she says.
High school officials can use the following strategies to build awareness of human trafficking.
1. Make sure staff understand human trafficking: Teachers don't need to be human trafficking experts, but they should know what modern slavery is, how it happens in their community, what to look for and who to turn to if there is a student they are concerned about or a victim comes forward.
Some of the warning signs: Students with bruises, tattoos or branding and unexplained trends in absences. For example, if a student is often absent on Monday and Friday it may be because their exploiter is making them travel to different locations.
2. Integrate human trafficking education into the curriculum: Modern slavery lessons naturally fit into a lesson about the history of slavery, says Littrell.
When looking for outside organizations or experts to bring in to discuss this issue, school officials should look for individuals and groups with a service provider background, who know how to use appropriate terminology, are mindful of students who have experienced trauma and strive to create a safe environment.
3. Be aware of school culture when discussing human trafficking: Educators don't want to unintentionally increase the risk for young people on campus when discussing human trafficking, says Littrell.
Always be mindful of physical and emotional safety when discussing this topic, she says. There could be networks on campus and often human trafficking is related to gang activity.
For example, say there is a student who is a victim of trafficking and people on campus know. A teacher might have a seemingly innocent conversation with the victim, but the exploiter might learn of this and the student could then face retaliation.
Littrell got involved with human trafficking education a number of years ago while working for a school district in the San Diego area. School staff started to notice that local students were being recruited into human trafficking rings and being exploited.
Human trafficking education should be tailored to the community and not just involve a one-off lesson or assembly, she says – it needs to be a whole-school approach.
Original article posted on US News and World Report