Human trafficking is the most critical and challenging social problem of our time and especially for America’s youth. Those most vulnerable to this debilitating and tragic crime are in our schools and youth organizations. They are our daughters (and sons), our nieces and nephews and brothers and sisters, and they are often hidden from view. During the day they walk among us. We see them in shopping malls, in hospital emergency rooms, in hotels and motels, in our classrooms, and yes in our homes locked in their rooms pretending to do homework. But at night, there is a different story. While at night they endure repeated rapes and violence at the hands of traffickers and clients, and parents think they are on dates, at parties. Some are even forced to sneak out the bedroom window after traffickers threaten to harm their families. The myth that (some area) is always taken away from them is not the norm, it is the exception.
Traffickers use today’s cultural indulgence to trap the most vulnerable among us:
In the United States, the average age of entry into sexual slavery is 13 years old, and about 80% of first-time buyers of sex do so before the age of 25. And although the statistics try to divide young people into vulnerable and non-vulnerable categories, the truth is that there are no socioeconomic borders that exempt some of our young people from this activity or this crime. We need to reach them with all the opportunities available today. Children spend more waking hours during the week at school than at home, where parents are often at work when they get home. So it’s only natural that the most obvious place to help our kids solve this problem is in the classroom, where Romeo’s pimps know they can get free access.
What makes all of our youth vulnerable is the modern culture in the United States and around the world that sanctions a hyper-sexualized climate that preys on youth. The current generation of children and adolescents is growing up with the mindset that sex at any time and with anyone is normal. The thirst for material possessions and the need for an acceptable self-image plague society and have established a model for what it views as acceptance by peers for inclusion in society’s “loved” circles. This is the challenge we face. All of our youth are targets and the traffickers know how to use these tools to finally catch them.
Romeo pimps who chase girls and earn their trust; friendships between boys and girls by peers strategically targeting insecure youth; social networks that play with the emotions of the other at the end of a message or image; and parties where victims use drinks as an unsuspecting means of getting high and then victims are raped – these are some of the most attractive ways traffickers work.
A key to prevention –
Imagine the very real possibility of reaching the next generation with the right tools to prepare them to make the right decisions? With this in mind, we can potentially end human trafficking in our lifetime. Getting education to America’s schools is paramount to working to make this a reality. However, not many educators or youth leaders are equipped to teach their youth about this scourge, and the idea of creating a curriculum from scratch is too overwhelming in addition to your many other responsibilities.
For the past several years, anti-trafficking organizations across the United States have taken the time to write curriculum and other programs that can assist educators in this mission; however, getting them into schools has been an uphill battle. Educators are overloaded with work as it is and adding another course to their already full plate has been next to impossible. While some schools have opened their doors to equally few organizations, we haven’t started to make an impact in the way we need to. Evidence shows that we must reach out to America’s youth not only to prevent them from becoming victims and traffickers, but to truly end this nightmare for many of our children.
To require or not to require education about human trafficking –
While some states are passing laws requiring human trafficking education in their school systems, and others are spinning the issue, we cannot address this quickly enough. We have mandated education for law enforcement training, caregiver training, first responders training, but what about victim prevention training! Why aren’t we talking about mandatory training for students who are what this is all about?
The Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) states that the average age of a victim of human trafficking is 12-13 years. At-risk youth are sitting in America’s classrooms. Why don’t we go where the need is greatest? Educating America’s youth is paramount in this mission to prevent more victims and end human trafficking. There are an overwhelming number of advocates who have already written educational training programs and classroom curricula: Aware Program in Vancouver, WA; My Life My Choice in Boston, MA; Blue Ribbon Week for 2nd and 3rd grade in San Antonio, TX; iEmpathize in Boulder, CO, among many others. Altogether, there is a wonderful balance of material across the country and there is no reason why every student in America should not be aware of this topic and how to prevent themselves and their peers from becoming victims.
Heather Tuininga, CEO of the Luke 1248 Foundation, after doing a thorough review of the literature, discovered several statistics about men who buy sex. 74-86% of men who bought sex bought it before the age of 25. She kept thinking “what if we educated all the youth in this country under the age of 25 about the harms of human trafficking, for themselves, the women who are shopping, their communities and the world? None of them ever chose to buying sex (or consuming porn) again, we could probably end the demand for sex trafficking in our lifetime. Wow! “
Of the many sources available to schools, National Educators to Stop Trafficking (NEST) is another such source. With more than 40 combined curricula and resources for grades five through twelve that will equip students with the knowledge and skills necessary to tackle sex trafficking, this online clearinghouse serves to empower and equip students. educators by providing youth-focused prevention resources for those committed to eliminating sex trafficking in their communities.
Once educated, do young people have the ability to say no? –
America’s youth is amazing! They are socially conscious enough to oppose the system; independent enough to deal with injustice; and compassionate enough to care for each other. Today’s youth are amazingly willing to create a culture that honors them and their unique contribution to the human race. One of the deepest misconceptions of young people is their inherent ability to rally around causes. Light a few and light a generation.
Despite these tremendous qualities, there are some factual reasons why some young people are unable to make smart decisions. It is proven that our emotional constitution develops far ahead of our mental capacity to make decisions. Research shows that the ability to make decisions by reasoning out the consequences of making an incorrect (or correct) decision does not develop until the age of 23 to 25. Therefore, educating young people in this phase of development can make a difference. If you know the strategies that traffickers employ, you will at least have a better chance of avoiding some of the pitfalls, especially when it comes to interaction on social media.
The evidence shows that we must bring human trafficking education to America’s schools. And our next generation depends on us to do just that.