Colorado district takes steps to fight human trafficking
- All 350 teachers and administrators in Lewis-Palmer School District 38 in southern Colorado are being required to take a two-hour education session on human trafficking. They'll learn how to identify warning signs and help keep students safe from falling prey to pimps, especially via social media.
- The district's proximity to Interstate 25, a hub for human trafficking, brings urgency to the training. It's unusual for such a program to be mandated for an entire district, reports The Gazette.
- Police in the area focus on juvenile prostitution involving boys, girls, and transgender youth; the johns; and the individuals, gangs, and cartels who pimp the typically 12-to 14-year-old victims.
Training in spotting human trafficking victims is useful anywhere, but especially in schools that serve homeless students. Traffickers tend to prey on students on the fringes of society, including those who are homeless, have substance abuse problems, are in foster care, and in general are without strong family support and community ties.
Such training first puts the scope of the problem in perspective. When one hears "human trafficking," an image of, say, a runaway snatched from a bus depot often comes to mind. And while such scenarios do, of course, happen, the reality is that many victims continue to live in their neighborhoods, hang out with friends, and go to school. The pimp not only grooms the child, but the community. He can appear to fit right in. Once a trafficker has garnered the trust of the students and adults, he lures victims on social media, in the neighborhood, at shopping malls, or even through fellow student "recruiters," who are also victims.
Administrators should be particularly watchful for subtle signs often exhibited by young victims of sex trafficking, experts say. These include: a sudden increase in absences; showing off new possessions that are more expensive than what it seems the student could afford; having another person speaking for him or her in interactions with school authorities (often an adult the student calls a relative); repeatedly "losing" their student ID card; being picked up and dropped off at school by a "boyfriend" or "girlfriend" who is noticeably older, or a sudden change in appearance/dress.
The Department of Homeland Security recommends that school administrators develop a formal protocol on when and how to alert law enforcement to suspect situations. The protocol should be developed in collaboration with school district leaders, federal and/or local law enforcement, mental health agencies, child welfare, or victim services providers, and other appropriate community partners. Only law enforcement, however, should try to intervene.
- The Gazette El Paso County school districts taking steps to protect students from human trafficking
- U.S. Department of Homeland Security Human Trafficking 101 for School Administrators and Staff