The fall always feels like the beginning of a new year, and as I write, teachers and students in Canada are wrapping up their first week of school. I have the privilege of knowing some incredible teachers, who not only care about information transfer and test scores, but also about the students themselves. Some of my teacher friends have become mentors, helping kids through difficult issues like bullying or abuse in the home. They may be the only ones who notice a student struggling with an eating disorder, loneliness, or, in some cases, something as serious as human trafficking.
The Texas School Safety Center recently came out with an article about recognizing the signs of human trafficking in schools. As I read the article, faces of trafficking victims flashed through my mind. I met one girl who, at the age of 15, met some older guys on facebook. The exploitative nature of the relationship progressed to the point to where she’d go to class during the day and be sold for sex at night. Her parents had no idea. In Vegas I learned that grade 12 boys were pimping grade 9 girls out of bathroom stalls at school. Due to cell phones and the internet, traffickers can have access to students all day long without even having to enter school premises.
Teachers, coaches, and other school personnel are in a unique position to spot warning signs. Here are a few to keep an eye out for:
Though these signs can point to a variety of issues, not just trafficking, it is good for teachers to be aware. Here’s some more pointers:
1. Have a relationship with the school liaison police officer, and ask if they have been educated/trained on human trafficking. If so, they may be able to help you with a specific situation and give you ideas for local resources.
2. Build a relationship of trust with your students. In many cases, a trafficking victim won’t identify themselves as a victim, so it takes trust to help them. Jennifer Lucking, a good friend of mine who has worked extensively with survivors of exploitation, explains that unless teachers have an incredibly close and trusting relationship with their students, a victim of trafficking will likely not listen to a teacher’s concern.
It may be better for a teacher to ask some challenging questions that will really help a victim identify for themselves that their situation isn’t ideal. For example instead of a teacher saying “he’s a pimp, not your boyfriend, you shouldn’t be doing that,” a teacher could ask “what does he do to make you feel cared for? What does he do that makes you feel uncared for? Do you think you deserve that?” At the very least, you are establishing that you are a safe person if the student ever decides to reach out.
You can read the entire Texas School Safety Center Report here.
It’s my hope that we can work together to traffic-proof this school year, and make schools safe zones where kids can learn and grow without fear of exploitation.