August, 2021 Monthly ReflectionAugust 1, 2021
By Maryann Agnes Mueller, CSSF
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
As we approach the beginning of a new school year, it is important to remember that aside from children, teachers, and staff, human traffickers can be found near schools, playgrounds, and other venues where children and teenagers congregate. These include social media, which offers traffickers access to children and their profile information. Traffickers often create fake profiles to impersonate individuals whom children may trust. By connecting on social media, a trafficker can anonymously learn the characteristics, behaviors, and social circles of their potential victims. In 2020, one case of grooming started on a school-issued Chromebook which led to a student and the groomer meeting up in person.
Several years ago, the U.S. Department of Education developed the Human Trafficking in America’s Schools guide to provide up-to-date information for school personnel on how to address and respond to human trafficking. School districts throughout the United States vary on if and how they may educate students and staff about human trafficking. In some states, training is mandated by law, and in others it is voluntary. In 2019, Florida became the first state in the nation requiring instruction in child trafficking prevention for students in grades K-12. The ruling also establishes procedures for school districts to plan and document the delivery of the required instruction at the end of each school year.
As mentors and role models, teachers and school staff are positioned to educate students about the dangers and warning signs of trafficking supported by collaboration with child protective services, law enforcement, social services, and community-based service providers. Educating children about online safety, the warning signs of predators, and providing helpful local resources may help prevent them from joining the thousands of child human trafficking victims in the United States.