Human trafficking education is mandatory in the schools of California in order to raise awareness among children about the crime as most human trafficking activity takes place in this state of the US.
As a part of comprehensive sexual health education, California public schools teach students about the prevalence, nature and strategies to reduce the risk of human trafficking, techniques to set healthy boundaries and ways to seek assistance.
In 2016, the National Human Trafficking Hotline reported 1,331 cases. However, many cases go unreported since this is a hidden crime.
To combat human trafficking, 3Strands Global Foundation, in collaboration with various stakeholders, launched an education programme in January 2017 named “Protect” (Prevention Organized to Educate Children on Trafficking).
“Protect – uses a three-pronged approach to fighting human trafficking, focusing on training different stakeholders, educators, and students as we believe that education stops the crime before it starts,” Ashlie M Bryant, founder and CEO of 3Strands Global Foundation, said.
There is also training for teachers under “PROTECT Training Modules for Educators”. Teachers learn about human trafficking and its signs, trauma impacts of commercial sexual exploitation of children, and response protocols through these trainings.
“More than 70% of victims do not know that they are victims and the goal of prevention education is to identify students who are actively being trafficked and reduce the number of students who become victims, buyers or traffickers,” said Bryant.
A survey showed significant changes among children on completion of the course on human trafficking, added Bryant.
“Teachers know their students best, and with knowledge on trafficking they come in a position where they can identify victims of trafficking and connect them with the service they need,” Bryant said.
The curriculum has been designed taking into account the age of the children, and it starts from the fifth grade. The students learn about safe people, safe places, safe choices and how to respond to a situation in which they feel uncomfortable.
In the seventh grade, students are taught respect, love, care and types of child abuse through art, as well as ways to develop personal boundaries, and how to report situations of abuse or human trafficking to a safe and trusted adult.
Ninth-graders receive an overview of human trafficking including warning signs and recruiting tactics, legal consequences of trafficking under state and federal law, and how media can influence and desensitize people towards exploitation. They also learn how to protect themselves and the community from human trafficking.
“Since 2014, on average 250 youth and children are arrested annually in Los Angeles and California for their involvement with prostitution, and 260 victims reveal that they were exploited,” said Michelle Guymon, director of the Child Trafficking Unit at Los Angeles County Probation Department.
However, she said that 70% of children are abused under foster care.
Emily C Williams, senior deputy for Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, said that most children under 10 are exploited by their biological parents.
“Exploitation starts at an early age and the children started disclosing about exploitation because we started talking and changing our ideas and approach which transformed into empathy and children feel safer where education helps,” said Guymon.
“We are now more engaged with the victims as trust is a big deal, and it is important to respond when they need help, and building this relationship with them takes time. We are trying to show up when they shout for help or are in need,” she said while explaining fast response protocol. “We are seeing them as victims rather than criminals.”
The multi-disciplinary collaboration has led to a significant change that reduced prostitution-related arrests to 97.9%. However, the country decriminalized children, and different states changed policies to arrest children and criminalize traffickers.