Human Trafficking is the most critical and challenging social issue of our times 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 times hidden in plain sight. During the day they walk among us. We see them in shopping centers, in hospital emergency rooms, on 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 are enduring repeated rape and violence at the hands of traffickers and johns, and parents think they are out on dates, at parties. Some even are coerced to sneak out the bedroom window after they are threatened with harm to their families by traffickers. The myth that they are always snatched (some area) is not the norm, it is the exception.
Traffickers use today’s cultural leniency to entrap the most vulnerable among us —
In the United States, the average age of entry into sexual slavery is 13, and about 80% of sex buyers do so for the first time before age 25. And while stats attempt at dividing youth into vulnerable and not-vulnerable categories, the truth is that there are no socio-economic boundaries that exempt any of our youth from this activity or this crime. We need to reach them with every opportunity available today. Children spend more waking hours during the week at school than at home where parents are often times at work when they get home. So it is natural that the most obvious venue for helping our children navigate this issue is in the classroom where romeo pimps know they can gain free access.
What makes all of our youth vulnerable is the modern culture in the United States and across the world that sanctions a hyper-sexualized climate that preys on youth. Today’s generation of children and teens are growing up with the mindset that sex 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 template for what deems acceptance by peers for inclusion into the “loved” circles of society. This is the challenge we face. All of our youth are targets and traffickers know how to use these tools to ultimately entrap them.
Romeo pimps that pursue girls and gain their trust; boy-friending and girl-friending by peers that strategically target insecure youth; social media that plays on the emotions of the one on the other end of a message or picture; and parties where victims drinks are used as an unsuspecting means of drugging and then the victims are raped – these are some of the most engaging ways that traffickers work.
A key to prevention —
Imagine the very real possibility of reaching the next generation with the proper tools to equip them to make wise choices? With this in mind, we can potentially end human trafficking in our lifetime. Getting education into America’s schools is paramount in working to make this a reality. Yet not many educators or youth leaders are equipped to teach their youth about this scourge, and the thought of creating a curriculum from scratch is too daunting on top of their many other responsibilities.
During the previous few years anti-human trafficking organizations all across the United States have taken the time to write curriculum and other programs that can aid educators in this mission, however getting them into the schools has been an uphill battle. Educators are overloaded with work as it is and to add yet another course to their already full plate has been next to impossible. While a few schools have opened their doors to an equally few organizations, we have not begun to make an impact the way we need to. Evidence proves that we must reach America’s youth to not only prevent them from becoming victims and traffickers, but to actually end this nightmare for so many of our children.
To mandate or not to mandate education on human trafficking —
While some states are passing legislation mandating education on human trafficking in their school systems, and others are tossing around the topic, we can’t address this fast enough. We have mandated education for law enforcement training, training for care givers, training for first-responders, but what about training to prevent victims! Why aren’t we discussing mandatory training for students who are the ones that this is all about?
The Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report states that the average age of a victim of human trafficking is 12-13. The at-risk youth are sitting in America’s classrooms. Why aren’t we going where the need is the greatest? Educating America’s youth is paramount in this mission to prevent more victims and to end human trafficking. There is an overwhelming number of advocates that have already written educational training programs and curriculum for the classroom: 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. Collectively, there is a wonderful balance of material across the nation and no reason why every student in America cannot know about this issue and how to prevent themselves and their peers from becoming victims.
Heather Tuininga, Executive Director for Luke 1248 Foundation, after doing a full literature analysis, discovered several statistics about men who purchase sex. 74-86% of the men who purchased sex bought by the time they were 25 years old. She kept thinking “what if we educated all of the young men in this country under the age of 25 about the harms of human trafficking – to themselves, the women they are purchasing, and to their communities and the world? If we did, and none of them ever chose to purchase sex (or consume pornography) again, we could probably end the demand for sex trafficking in our lifetime. Wow!”
Of the many sources available to the schools, National Educators to Stop Trafficking (NEST) is another one of those sources. With over 40 combined curriculum and resources for fifth grade to twelve that will equip students with the knowledge and skills needed to stand up against sex trafficking, this on-line clearing-house serves to empower and equip educators by providing youth-focused prevention resources to those committed to eliminating sex trafficking in their communities.
Once educated, do youth have the ability to say no? —
America’s youth are amazing! They are socially conscious enough to buck the system; independent enough to stand up against injustice; and compassionate enough to care about one another. Youth today are astoundingly ready to make a culture that honors them and their unique contribution to the human race. One of the most profound misconceptions of young people is their intrinsic ability to rally around causes. You ignite a few and you ignite a generation.
Despite these tremendous qualities, there are some factual reasons that some youth are not able to make smart decisions. It is proven that our emotional make-up develops far ahead of our mental capacity to make decisions. Research shows that the ability to make choices by reasoning out consequences for making a wrong (or right) choice do not develop until the age of 23 – 25. Therefore, educating youth on this phase of development can make a difference. If they know the strategies that traffickers employ then they will at least have a better chance at avoiding some of the pitfalls, especially where interaction on social media is concerned.