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Carmichael Times

Local Teachers Learn to Identify Signs of Human Trafficking

Oct 02, 2019 12:00AM ● By Story and photos by Shaunna Boyd

Teachers at Mesa Verde High School in Citrus Heights recently completed the PROTECT program, learning how to identify and report suspected case of human trafficking. Photo by Shaunna Boyd

Local Teachers Learn to Identify Signs of Human Trafficking [3 Images] Click Any Image To Expand

CITRUS HEIGHTS, CA (MPG) - Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal enterprise. It is happening around the world and across the country, and the Sacramento region is a hotbed for trafficking activity.

Local non-profit 3Strands Global Foundation sponsored Assembly Bill 1227, the Human Trafficking Prevention Education and Training Act, which was signed into law in 2017. The law requires that California public schools train school personnel on how to identify possible trafficking victims and how to proceed when victims are identified. The schools must also provide human trafficking prevention education at least once in middle school and once in high school.

Local Rotary District 5180 partnered with 3Strands Global to fund the educational training program in area schools, and educators at Mesa Verde High School in Citrus Heights recently completed the second phase of the training.

Mesa Verde High School Vice Principal Brett Tujague welcomed the opportunity to address this issue: “I love the fact that we’re able to get this type of exposure to this major crisis that’s happening. … It wasn’t until I sat down about a year ago with the Rotary Club that I first saw the bigger picture. It was … eye opening to see. … The next day I came back to campus and, based on what I had learned, I was looking at students with a different lens and able to kind of see some red flags and some warnings. … And in talking with our teachers who have gone through the training as well, they are super excited for Part 2.”

Sean Brown, 3Strands Global Regional Director, presented the PROTECT (Prevention Organized to Educate Children on Trafficking) training, which focused on understanding vulnerability and trauma as well as identifying warning signs, reporting suspected exploitation, and implementing prevention education in the classroom.

Brown explained that human trafficking is a growing criminal enterprise because while drugs or guns must be carefully hidden and can only be sold once, humans can be hidden in plain sight and “can be sold over and over again.”

The traffickers reach out to youth online, vastly increasing the number of potential victims. Brown said the traffickers target vulnerable youth, gaining their trust by offering affection and attention. Some groups at high risk of exploitation are foster youth, victims of domestic abuse, homeless youth, bullied students, and LGBT youth.

Most kids do not recognize when they are being exploited, and it is rare for them to self-disclose. Brown said they often do not identify as victims or seek help. He explained that the “trauma bond” between victim and trafficker is a “caging of the mind. It removes their sense of identity, their sense of self.”

Signs that can indicate a student is a trafficking victim include lack of eye contact, frequently missing school, suddenly having expensive new clothes or accessories, and having two cell phones. Brown said teachers should also look for branding on students’ skin such as dollar signs, diamonds, bar codes, or names. These brands are tattooed, burned, or cut into the skin on the student’s finger, forearm, or chest — somewhere the victim “sees it every day to remind them they belong to someone else,” said Brown.

If teachers notice warning signs, Brown said they should not confront the student. Instead, they should ask questions and see if the student’s answers seem off. Depending on the student’s answers, teachers can then report their concerns if they suspect the student is being trafficked.

Teachers can download the PROTECT curriculum to teach awareness and prevention directly in their classrooms. In order to track the impact of the curriculum, 3Strands Global partners with researches who analyze data from the teacher trainings and the prevention programs in the classroom.

Colin Bross, Mesa Verde High School Principal, considered how to best implement the prevention education curriculum for students at the school: “The most logical place seems to be health [class], since it’s a graduation requirement anyway” and the issue can be discussed in relation to other health topics such as “mental health issues, drug abuse, victimization.”

If a teacher suspects one of their students is a trafficking victim, Bross said, “We and our counselors need to know so we can work with those kids in an appropriate way. … We don’t want a bunch of isolated conversations taking place in classrooms. We need to have a kind of funneling of these issues being brought to someone who can do some investigating to make sure it’s done with a certain care, so we’re not accusing, or assuming, or confronting a kid. … Having counselors and people who are trained to have those tough conversations with kids is important for us for the next steps.”