Schools have several responsibilities regarding child trafficking. They must: (1) increase staff awareness and educate staff on the indicators and the nature of the crimes; (2) increase parent and student awareness of the risks and realities of trafficking; and (3) develop and clearly articulate district- or school-wide policies on and protocols for identifying a suspected victim or responding to a disclosure from a suspected victim.
Training on risk factors for vulnerable children, the signs and indicators of exploitation and trafficking, and the victim-centered approach should be provided to all staff working with students. It also is imperative that school personnel understand best practices for interacting with trafficking survivors, who often struggle with shame and embarrassment and too frequently believe their victimization is their fault. Suspending all judgments and remaining open minded are critical to creating a trusting, safe relationship in which vulnerable students feel safe to confide and seek support.
In order to be ready to assist a child victim, the school district should develop a procedure similar to the procedures used in cases of sexual assault or for reporting child abuse. Because trafficking of children is child abuse, the protocol may be an addendum to the existing child abuse reporting protocol.
A 10th-grade student was identified by law enforcement as a victim of child sex trafficking when they arrested her pimp. The victim was referred for services with a case manager and therapist. The victim and her mother granted consent for her case manager to work with her high school counselor to transfer her to an alternative school. The new school provided her a fresh start as well as a safe location where her pimp and his associates could not locate her.
–Case Manager, San Diego Youth Services
An effective school policy should require that school administrators and/or authorities be notified immediately, while maintaining the student’s confidentiality to the extent possible under the law. Once a child victim is identified, it is imperative that all responding providers coordinate intervention and support for the victim as well as ensure minimal impact on other students.
To have an effective anti-trafficking protocol, schools should, at a minimum
- develop, adopt, enforce, and implement a policy to address child trafficking;
- make sure all school personnel are properly trained on the policy;
- make certain campus security is in place so that all visitors are screened;
- provide programs and roles for parents and guardians to make them part of their children’s safety and security, both at school and while going to and from school;
- assess the environmental structure and take every possible step to help make it safe;
- partner with local law enforcement experts to provide a parent awareness program on the dangers and warning signs of child sex trafficking; and
- partner with local law enforcement agencies to protect the routes that students use to travel to and from schools.