Given the nature of modern human trafficking of school-age individuals, educators and school employees are uniquely “positioned to recognize changes in behavior and appearance that may indicate human trafficking involvement”. In North Carolina, school officials are mandated to report potential cases of sexual abuse and exploitation, and to instruct students on human trafficking. However, despite this requirement, the State of North Carolina does not mandate the training of school officials on how to prevent, identify, report, or address potential human trafficking of school-age children. The trafficking of children is a harsh reality in North Carolina and throughout the U.S. An estimated 100,000 children are traded for sex in the U.S. each year. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that over 250,000 children ages 10-17 are exploited through commercial sex in the U.S. annually. For girls, the average entry age is between 12-14, and for boys, the entry age is 11-13.
Between January 2011 and December 2014, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center received over 600 phone calls from educators and school officials regarding human trafficking-related issues. The 600 calls resulted in 130 cases of child trafficking, out of which: 75% were sex trafficking related, 13% labor trafficking, and 3% dealt with both. In addition, 40% of cases involved referenced potential victims who were U.S. citizens and 27% referenced victims as foreign nationals.
There is no “textbook profile” for a child-trafficking victim; however, several factors make a potential victim more susceptible and vulnerable to traffickers. Such factors include a history of sexual abuse, dating violence, minimal social support, and homelessness status, among others. However, some trafficked youth continue living at home and attending school, and these identifying factors alone do not rule out a child’s exposure to trafficking.
Schools officials, with whom children spend so much of their week, are critically placed to identify potential or ongoing trafficking. According to a report from the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council, “U.S. schools are emerging as a potentially promising environment for a variety of trafficking prevention and intervention activities for the young people in their care”. Most school-aged youth spend an average of 180 days per year at school. Even though some of the most at-risk youth may no longer regularly attend, many continue to do so.
The function of school officials in a prevention or intervention role is well founded on the traditional school approach to supporting the health and wellness of their student body; as such, students in the NC public education system already receive training in sex trafficking. Through NC General Statute 115C-81, the State of North Carolina mandates that schools include student instruction on sexual trafficking prevention and awareness as part of the health and safety education program. NCGS 115C-81 also mandates instruction in sexual assault, sexual abuse, and risk reduction for students. However, the state provides no such mandated training on the subject for the school officials.
School officials taking initiative and reporting human trafficking and child abuse is already taking place throughout the U.S. and North Carolina. However, state and local officials need to take the next step in their government-mandated efforts to empower educators and school employees to do more than just report potential trafficking. Strengthening anti-trafficking policies and laws is already happening in North Carolina. Now, we need to train and prepare those who are meant to lead the charge in fighting the trafficking of school-age children.
Quauhtli Olivieri Herrera is a public policy graduate student at Duke University, with focuses on national security and human trafficking.