Here’s a back-to-school statistic that doesn’t get the attention it should: Thousands of children are bought for sex in America every year—many of them while still attending school each day. It is a $9.5 billion industry, and it is growing.
Traffickers prey on vulnerable youth and invest energy and resources to groom their victims, whom they push into prostitution, pornography or stripping. Like others who prey on children, they target places where children congregate and that obviously includes schools.
Yet most public school systems and school personnel are unaware of or unprepared to prevent domestic sex trafficking or help students who are victims. The U.S. Department of Justice reports girls as young as 10 years old are being recruited and trafficked by criminal rings while they still live with their parents.
Schools should be safe havens for students, especially those students whose lives are otherwise characterized by instability and lack of safety or security. School personnel are often in a unique position to identify and report suspected abuse and connect students to help.
Anyone who is part of the school community—administrators, teachers, bus drivers, maintenance personnel, food service staff, resource officers and other school community members—has the potential to be an advocate for child victims of human trafficking, if they know what to look for.
Lack of Federal Funds
This is a national problem, yet there is no federal funding available specifically for schools aimed at the prevention of domestic minor sex trafficking, training of education staff or educational support services for minor victims of human trafficking.
While funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or the U.S. Department of Justice offers aid and support to adult and child victims of human trafficking, it does not assist in preventing trafficking or in training others to prevent trafficking. These funding streams also don’t specifically address the unique educational needs of child victims.
The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires school personnel to participate in training about trafficking, but absent dedicated resources and support, ESSA is unlikely to make a meaningful dent in the problem. However, there are other things that the federal government can do.
Suggestions for the Federal Government
The next administration can take real steps to give education professionals the tools to help in the fight against trafficking:
First, federal mandatory reporting requirements regarding child abuse should be broadened to include sex trafficking. It’s shocking that this isn’t already required.
Second, the Department of Education should specify required components of training required under ESSA, such as:
- Identifying risk factors and warning signs for human trafficking.
- Supporting especially high-risk populations such as homeless youth and students in foster care.
- Understanding concrete steps for prevention and assisting child victims of human trafficking.
Third, the federal government should require school districts to define policies and procedures for training staff and parents, reporting suspected human trafficking and connecting victims and suspected victims to law enforcement and support services.
Finally, disparate federal funding streams tied to child abuse and neglect prevention should be flexible and not stay locked up in bureaucratic silos, so they can be used to support human trafficking victims wherever they receive relevant services.
Human trafficking of children for sexual exploitation is not just something that happens in other countries or communities. It happens here, in all parts of America. The next president should help our educators do more to stop it.