Preventing Child Trafficking at the School Level - Primary Tier: Primary or Universal Prevention

Since 2013, Prince William County Public Schools (Virginia) has delivered 90-minute lessons on human trafficking to middle and high school students. Afterward, students are invited to privately identify themselves or friends as possible trafficking victims. The students can then meet privately with a social worker who assesses their needs and helps them get the care they need. Between 2013 and 2020, 939 students came forward, 253 of whom were identified as having been sexually assaulted, groomed, or victims of trafficking. Forty-one of the students who requested meetings simply wanted more information—an encouraging fact as prevention is one goal of the program.

Primary prevention stops violence before it occurs. As Figure 3 indicates, primary prevention strategies include strengthening and creating healthy relationships, reducing risks within the students’ environment, and increasing buffers to violence. Efforts to teach social-emotional skills and create a safe school climate fall into this tier, as do skills-based human trafficking curricula or prevention messages delivered directly to students. The intentional building of relationships between schools and community-based mental health providers as part of the Tier 1 strategy provides a stronger basis for victim and survivor support in higher tiers. Primary prevention provides the greatest opportunity to change outcomes for large numbers of children.