Schools join the fight against human trafficking


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(THE CONVERSATION) Education officials across the United States are trying to figure out how to effectively teach students about the risks and warning signs of human trafficking, which include domestic servitude, commercial work, or sex work.

According to 2019 data collected by the Polaris Project – a non-profit organization that fights human trafficking, including sex trafficking – 24% of survivors said they had been trafficked for the first time before being trafficked. to be 18 years old.

In 2017, California became the first state to require human trafficking education for students and teachers. Tennessee, Florida and Virginia also now require school personnel to receive formal training aimed at ending human trafficking.

As human trafficking cases continue to make headlines, similar prevention and education efforts are taking place in schools across the country. Parents and community members in other states may also find similar efforts in their communities. As a scholar who studies business ethics – and as executive director of the Center for Ethics and Human Rights at Colorado State University – I recommend that school leaders keep five key objectives in mind when creating anti-trafficking educational programs.

1. Create a haven of peace

Childhood researchers suggest that children need a safe haven they can go to when faced with fear and threats. They also need a safe base, a place where they feel safe to explore the world around them.

Ideally, children’s homes would serve these purposes. But schools can also provide safe shelters and secure bases. Children who feel more secure are less vulnerable to predators, who often fake affection and give a false sense of love as a tactic to lure children into the world of human trafficking.

2. Pay attention to triggers

When told about human trafficking, children’s memories of past traumas may be triggered. Educators who are aware of this possibility are more likely to better protect children from triggering and to better respond appropriately if it occurs.

Many children have been exposed to trauma, such as neglect or abandonment; physical, sexual or psychological abuse; Loss of a loved one; or refugee or war experiences. When these memories are triggered, children feel distressed and in danger.

Triggers can include words, tone of voice, facial expressions, smells, feelings, or postures that are ingrained in a child’s mind. And some can cause unexpected reactions in seemingly regular situations. For example, a child whose abusive parent used to eat oranges may be triggered by the smell of an orange, and this memory may be tied to the abusive experience in the child’s mind. Or a common nickname may have been used by an attacker and may be a trigger.

Often these memories are unconscious, so the child may not understand why they are feeling upset or overwhelmed, yet they react to the trigger as if facing a real threat.

3. Be inclusive

When teachers show compassion, warmth and kindness to their students, they are more likely to develop a strong sense of belonging in the classroom space.

Without this sense of belonging, students may come to see themselves as unworthy of attention and love, which damages their self-esteem and makes them more vulnerable to the influence of predators.

4. Dispel misconceptions and stereotypes

Young white women are often portrayed in the media as representative of victims of trafficking, although women and girls of color experience high rates of trafficking.

Additionally, women of color who are forced into sex or labor are often stereotyped as deviants and treated with suspicion by officials and law enforcement.

And although boys are trafficked less often, they are still at risk of being trafficked. Additionally, many human trafficking reports do not provide data on non-binary or gender-nonconforming people.

Education materials on trafficking work best when they explain precisely who the perpetrators are. Effective anti-trafficking education teaches children that traffickers are not just strangers or people of another race or ethnicity. The traffickers are often friendly, charismatic, well-dressed, and seemingly wealthy, and they can appear kind and warm. It can also be close family members and caregivers who exploit the children in their care.

5. Use the right touch and tone

Teachers often use touch and tone of voice to connect with children. But many children who have experienced trauma are sensitive to touch and avoid it. Teachers who learn to use touch in a reassuring and affirmative way – such as an encouraging pat on the back, an occasional handshake, a high-five or a fist bump – can help create a sense of safety in the classroom, building trust with students and making them less likely to fall prey to traffickers.

Similarly, using a consistent, calm, reassuring, and firm tone of voice can promote student development, engagement, learning, and growth.

Schools can play an important role in helping students learn about and protect themselves from human trafficking. With these five concepts in mind, school leaders will be better prepared to keep children safe.

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