Preventing Child Trafficking at the School Level

One effective way to combat child sex and labor trafficking is to treat it as a public health problem.

As noted, certain systemic, family, and individual risk factors make some students more vulnerable to traffickers. By identifying and addressing the “upstream” determinants of human trafficking, such as domestic violence, substance use, and poverty, communities can help reduce the number of students who will face it.38 When trafficking does occur, schools and their community partners can work to intervene, bring perpetrators to justice, and offer affected students evidence-based supports so they can resume their lives and achieve their full potential.

A framework for trafficking prevention is shown in Figure 3. It is based on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ paradigm for trafficking prevention, which outlines primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention tiers, as well as multilevel approaches to violence prevention developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).39 The CDC treats all forms of violence as connected and deeply rooted in poverty and inequality. Individuals who experience one type of violence are more likely to experience other types, and certain factors are known to predispose individuals to being victims, perpetrators, or both. The CDC describes multiple, complementary, evidence-based violence prevention strategies meant to be carried out across social systems and levels, including within schools.

The primary or universal tier involves creating environments and fostering skills in children that prevent victimization. The secondary tier focuses on identifying victims, preventing further harm, and offering immediate help. The tertiary tier addresses long-term support to those affected by trafficking.

A pyramid with three tiers from top to bottom: Tertiary (Treatment, Recovery, and Reintegration), Secondary (Responding to Trafficking)), and Primary (Primary or Universal Prevention

Tertiary Tier—Treatment, Recovery, and Reintegration

Refer survivor to specialized therapy; engage survivor to develop safety plan and education plan; provide ongoing trauma-informed support and monitoring.

Secondary Tier—Responding to Trafficking

Identify potential victims; follow school’s written protocol; involve child welfare, law enforcement, and community social service specialists as indicated and in accordance with state law; investigate campus impacts, including involvement of other students as victims or traffickers.

Primary Tier—Primary or Universal Prevention

STAFF: Train all staff in trafficking risk factors and indicators. Provide specialized training to staff most likely to notice signs of trafficking.

STUDENTS: Provide preschool enrichment programs, social-emotional skills education, safe dating and relationship education, online safety education, mentoring programs, after-school programs, and specialized human trafficking curriculum or trafficking prevention messages folded into regular lesson plans.

POLICY: Develop policies and protocols for investigating and responding to suspicions of trafficking; a climate of school safety and support; student peer-reporting and self-reporting approaches; family education and engagement activities; and memorandums of understanding with social service agencies specializing in trafficking.


  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families. (2018). A public health approach to human trafficking. Webinar. https://www.acf.hhs.gov/otip/resource/nhttacphwebinar-0
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.(2019). Preventing adverse childhood experiences: Leveraging the best available evidence. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/preventingACES.pdf; ISafe Ventures, U.S. Department of Education. (2017). Use case–human trafficking framework for instructional programming in schools. ISafe Ventures. https://safesupportivelearning.ed.gov/sites/default/files/USDOE_UseCase_HT_2017.pdf; U.S. Department of Education. (2020, January 30). The identification and support of students affected by human trafficking. Webinar. https://vimeo.com/388383293/e1ef82f39a; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Family & Youth Services Bureau, and Centers for Disease Control. (2020, January 30). Connecting the dots: Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and the intersection with human trafficking. Webinar. https://vawnet.org/events/connecting-dots-adverse-childhood-experiences-aces-and-intersection-human-trafficking; The National Network for Youth. (2018). Responding to youth homelessness: A key strategy for preventing human trafficking. The National Network for Youth. https://nn4youth.org/wp-content/uploads/NN4Y-2018-white-paper-human-trafficking-FINAL-0918.pdf; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families, Office on Trafficking in Persons. (2019, April 24). Definitions and principles to inform human trafficking prevention. Doc No: OTIP-IM-19-01.01. https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/documents/otip/im_definitions_and_principles_of_human_trafficking_prevention.pdf