Friday, March 19, 2010

Education Professionals and Anti-Trafficking

In her book, The Slaves Across the Street, Theresa Flores recounts her experience of sex slavery while attending school. She notes that, despite extreme behavioral changes and other indicators, none of her teachers or other school professionals reported or spoke with her about her situation. Though Flores experienced violence at school from her controllers, went from a straight A student to a struggling student, and was threatened and manipulated in front of teachers by her traffickers, no teacher intervened.

Flores' case shows what can go horribly wrong when education professionals are not aware or trained to recognize human trafficking. They are also in a position to make an incredible difference when they are aware and trained. Benjamin Skinner tells the story of Little Hope, a young girl who was held as a domestic slave in Florida after being brought to the US from Haiti. In his book, A Crime So Monstrous, Skinner describes the horrible abuse endured by the young girl, who ultimately was able to escape her situation through a connection she made with a teacher at a modeling school.

Trafficking survivors, whether they are survivors of labor or sex trafficking, face extreme challenges that do not end after they get out of the trafficking situation. Many were unable to pursue education before leaving slavery, and many want to and need to pursue more education in order to gain economic independence. Education professionals need to also be trained to work with and meet the unique needs of survivors.

Last fall, the Department of Education released a factsheet for education professionals, including information on human trafficking, trafficking in the US, and what to do if you suspect trafficking is occurring. The factsheet also provides a list of redflags and potential indicators for trafficking, including indicators education professionals are in a unique position to be able to see or likely to encounter:

A victim:
  • Has unexplained absences from school for a period of time, and is therefore a truant
  • Demonstrates an inability to attend school on a regular basis
  • Chronically runs away from home
  • Makes references to frequent travel to other cities
  • Exhibits bruises or other physical trauma, withdrawn behavior, depression, or fear
  • Lacks control over her or his schedule or identification documents
  • Is hungry-malnourished or inappropriately dressed (based on weather conditions or surroundings)
  • Shows signs of drug addiction

Additional signs that may indicate sex-related trafficking include:

  • Demonstrates a sudden change in attire, behavior, or material possessions (e.g., has expensive items)
  • Makes references to sexual situations that are beyond age-specific norms
  • Has a “boyfriend” who is noticeably older (10+ years)
  • Makes references to terminology of the commercial sex industry that are beyond age specific norms; engages in promiscuous behavior and may be labeled “fast” by peers
This factsheet is a useful first step for educators, but like with most efforts in anti-trafficking, additional work is necessary. Education professionals need to be trained and supported to recognize and report trafficking and support potential victims and survivors. In some cases, they may be a victims only connection away from their traffickers.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:31 AM

    "...engages in promiscuous behavior and may be labeled “fast” by peers."

    And of course, as we well know, American high school students keep their legs crossed and would never DREAM of labeling a colleague "fast" just because, say, they didn't like her.

    And what are "age-specific norms" regarding sex, anyway? Does the U.S. government provide us a list of these?