Human trafficking education should be a priority for our country's schools

Human trafficking education should be a priority for our country's schools
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This fall, with the support of Governor DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, Florida became the first state to require a curriculum on child trafficking for all K-12 students. Now, we need other states to follow suit.

Human trafficking is a pervasive industry in the U.S., but many Americans still remain unaware of it. And a lack of education is putting children in every state at risk. 

A 2016 study by the U.S. Department of Justice estimated the number of trafficked children to be between 4,500 to 21,000.

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The real number could likely be higher, considering how difficult it is to accurately determine the number of victims involved in an underground criminal industry. According to the Florida Department of Health, half of the state’s trafficking victims are under the age of 18. The Investigative Unit at Fox News concluded that most human trafficking victims are underage.

It makes sense that we would want to shield our kids from discussions of sex and violence, but the best way to keep them out of this modern form of slavery is to tell them about it. The reality is, many of the kids who will be lured into the trafficking industry won’t confide in an adult about it.

This is because traffickers target the most vulnerable children — these often have low self-esteem, a history of abuse, are runaways or are in the foster care system.

Any comprehensive plan to combat sex trafficking has to include teaching our kids about the problem. Young children need to understand physical boundaries and what constitutes inappropriate or unsafe adult behavior.

Preteens and teens, who are often the targets of child traffickers, need to understand traffickers’ recruitment tactics, which often involve older men first engaging in a romantic relationship with young girls before coercing or convincing them to engage in sex acts with other men. 

Often, these girls don’t consider themselves trafficking victims. But adolescent peer relationships are powerful and friends who recognize the warning signs could report their concerns to a trusted adult or convince a potential victim to end the relationship before it goes too far.

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The internet has also made every child a potential victim. Predators are increasingly using social media and dating apps to find and connect with victims. According to the FBI, “Pretty much every popular social media site out there is being used for recruiting potential victims of sex trafficking.”

We need to teach kids how to use technology and social media safely and what warning signs to look out for. We especially need to teach them that a trafficker can be anyone — even a coach or neighbor — and there is no one “type.” 

It’s also just as important to educate boys as it is to educate girls. For one, a 2016 Department of Justice study found that a third of the children trapped in the U.S. sex trafficking industry are boys. But because of the stigma associated with sexual exploitation, many boys don’t come forward as victims.

But in-school education doesn’t just prevent future victims. It also prevents future buyers.

According to the U.S. Institute on Human Trafficking, sex trafficking is a supply and demand problem: The greater the demand for paid sex, including sex with minors, the more traffickers will seek to fill the supply with victims.  

We live in a culture that looks the other way when it comes to prostitution. For many males, buying sex is considered a rite of passage. But many men don’t realize that the “women” they are buying sex from are actually underage, trafficked girls. If we teach boys about the realities of the industry before they graduate high school, they are much more likely to think twice before buying sex when they are older.

This isn’t an initiative that’s going to happen on a large scale unless state governments get involved. That’s why human trafficking prevention education should be offered in all schools. We also need whole-community efforts to educate parents, churches, law enforcement, teachers and medical professionals.

Florida can’t remain alone in its prevention efforts. Florida’s new rule has to be the first in a series of nationwide initiatives within the educational system to eradicate sex trafficking for good. We can’t keep our kids out of the trafficking industry if they don’t know it exists.

Tim Head is executive director for the Faith & Freedom Coalition.