Where Education is Lacking on Sex Trafficking, Nonprofits are stepping in

By Sabrina Berndt and Paige Moose

Sex trafficking is an issue seen in every age group, from elementary ages to the late 20s. Education and awareness are the first steps to reducing worldwide trafficking levels, but to properly educate, officials need to consider every age groups’ unique situations and circumstances.

Sex trafficking is effectively modern-day slavery, which involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. And it’s a booming industry, currently raking in around $99 billion a year, according to the U.S. Department of State.

At least 20.9 million adults and children are bought and sold worldwide into commercial sexual servitude, forced labor and bonded labor. Although this epidemic is rapidly growing, there are a few things that can be done to help reduce levels of human trafficking.

Education and awareness programs differ based on the targeted age group. Awareness efforts have increased throughout the United States, especially at universities and in law enforcement training, but for younger students, education is minimal and focused on staff.

Children, although accounting for nearly 26 percent of trafficking victims according to the National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments, are not exposed to the reality of trafficking and are only taught about the dangers of talking or leaving with strangers. Instead, education efforts are targeted toward school staff and officials.

The National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments is a government agency mostly run by the Office of Safe and Healthy Students to the American Institutes for Research, or AIR. The organization’s mission is to provide students with a well-rounded education, improve school conditions, and improve the use of technology in schools.

Their focus for human trafficking education for small children is purely geared towards school staff and officials. They offer an online booklet about the subject, outlining educators’ responsibilities, training, and possible indicators.

Educators, according to The National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments, are expected to pay attention and refer to their school’s protocols if they notice physical or behavior indicators of human trafficking. These indicators can include unexplained absences, frequently running away from home, bruises or signs of drug addiction, and rehearsed responses to personal questions.

One of the most revealing indicators and risk factors of human trafficking is running away from home.

According to studies by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, one out of eight children runaways are expected to be a victim of human trafficking and one out of three are lured or forced into trafficking within 48 hours of leaving home. There are several other risk factors children may potentially encounter after being trafficked, including isolation, poverty, family dysfunction and emotional distress.

The mental and emotional pain that a child experiences after going through such a traumatic event are life-altering. The effects don’t end after it happens. Children grow up with harsh memories that can haunt them for the rest of their lives.

One of the most important ways to help prevent children from experiencing this pain is by talking to them. The United Nations Children Fund or UNICEF has created The End Trafficking Project, which is an initiative to “raise awareness about child trafficking and mobilize communities to take meaningful action to help protect children.”

UNICEF’s project includes lobbying governments around the world to pass laws and strengthen child protection, helping to provide a living wage for parents to prevent child labor and working with communities to change societal norms that make children more vulnerable. As a result of their contributions, UNICEF claims “armed groups had released 65,000 forcibly recruited children in the last decade due to the efforts of governments, non-governmental organizations and global child advocates.”

As a part of this project, UNICEF has put together several resources that help parents, children and supporters.

They highly encourage parents to talk with their child about human trafficking. First and foremost, it is important for parents educate themselves and learn the warning signs of a trafficked victim.

Educating children is the next step. Parents should explain the importance of not accepting strangers on social media sites, not giving too much information away about themselves, or never agreeing to meet someone they do not know alone or in a quiet area. It is also important to stress the different resources available if something were to ever happen.

There are many statistics and stories, but so few people standing up to help innocent children.

Earlier this year, Dr. John DeGarmo, a leading expert in Parenting and Foster Care Field, wrote an article for the Huffington Post titled “5 Ways You Can Help Stop Human Trafficking.His five tips: educate, recognize the signs, report any suspicions, raise awareness and take action.

Young children are not the only ones being greatly affected. The physical, mental and emotional pain unfortunately affects high schoolers as well.

According to studies done by local anti-trafficking activist groups, including the Salvation Army’s Project Fight started in 2011 and Eastern North Carolina Stop Human Trafficking Now started in 2010, 15 years old is the average age of a sex trafficking victim. Additionally, the average age a teen enters the slave trade is 12-14 years old, according to DoSomething.org.

High schoolers require a more rigorous education on the dangers of trafficking and what preventative measures they can take, according to Mark Leach, a high school counselor at E.A. Laney High School in Wilmington, North Carolina.

“No, I not think there is near enough educational opportunities available. Maybe offering parent-student learning opportunities would help,” Leach stated.

Pam Strickland, the founder of the Eastern North Carolina Stop Human Trafficking Now activist group, believes social media is a major factor in high schooler’s susceptibility.

“Teenagers need to be careful about adding people they don’t know on social media,” Strickland said.

Parent-student learning opportunities and programs at high schools can bring awareness to high school students about trafficking and possible risk factors, such as social media.

Katie Talbott, a high school teacher in Kettering, Ohio, formed an anti-trafficking club with interested students. In her blog on EndSlaveryNow.org, Tablott explains that her club educates themselves on fair trade, trafficking, and how to spread awareness.

They host a bi-annual awareness event at their school that “hosts a number of fair trade vendors, interactive learning exhibits and speakers to get the word out.” In 2014, 300 high school students attended the club’s event and the club members ran the entire event with minimal help from nearby adults.

Talbott and her husband, also an educator, created a widely available curriculum on human trafficking for both middle and high school teachers.

“I think it’s important to educate students about human trafficking so they are aware that this is happening here, to equip them with the tools and knowledge to be effective abolitionists and to empower them to help others and to not become victims themselves,” Talbott stated in her blog post.

College students, although more independent than children and teenagers, are just as susceptible, if not more susceptible, due to their location. According to Victoria Johnson of Pitt County’s Project Fight, colleges can be hubs for trafficking because of frequent sports games and alumni events.

“These events bring wealthy people to the area who are out to have fun without their families and without having to worry about work,” Johnson stated.

According to Johnson, hosting events on campuses would help bring awareness to college students who may not understand how prevalent trafficking is in the United States. These programs are typically nonprofit chapters, self defense training and training to help victims of violence. For example, the International Justice Mission, founded in 1997, has chapters in more than 50 colleges nationwide.

According to its website, the International Justice Mission has 17 field offices in Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia and South Asia. As of 2016, IJM claims to have rescued more than 28,000 victims of modern-day slavery. College chapters work to create awareness through programs such as the Freedom Fast.

The Freedom Fast is held annually in the fall. Participators are encouraged and expected to donate $24 to IJM and pray 24 prayers while fasting for 24 hours to contribute to the end of modern slavery. The night of the fast is celebrated with a worshipping service among the participators and broken the next day with a collective lunch and a discussion about human trafficking and other forms of slavery.

Another common awareness program for colleges is Helping Advocates for Violence Ending Now, or Haven Training. Although Haven is mainly focused on sexual and interpersonal violence and stalking, these signs are also indicators of possible trafficking. The program lasts three hours and gives students and staff/faculty the tools to listen, respond, and offer resources to victims and survivors.

Self-defense training is also common among college students to prevent potential sexual assault or trafficking situations and are often segregated based on gender.

It is not only schools’ responsibility to raise awareness, but also the communities’. Missio Hair, founded in 2016, is a hair product that aims to help hair stylists “aid in victim identification, mobilize stylists in beauty initiatives, and give to non-profit partners.” The business’ donations helped build an emergency shelter for trafficking victims in Wilmington, North Carolina on December 1.

Lorin Van Zandt, the owner of Missio Hair, believes community awareness is the key to end trafficking.

“One of the main priorities for helping to fight this issue globally is to increase community awareness and education. This is simply so people can know what to look for and help identify when or where trafficking might be occurring and help victims get connected with help,” Van Zandt said.

Other efforts include the naming of January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month by the Department of Homeland Security. January 11 is “Wear Blue Day,” started in 2010, in which the public wears blue to pledge their solidarity with victims of human trafficking and raise awareness.

These efforts to raise awareness for younger communities, along with increasing media attention and sharing news stories on social media, appear to be effective, as seen by the rising number of calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, from 21,947 calls in 2015 to 26,727 calls in 2016.

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