California schools confront human trafficking

New California laws make the state first in the nation to adopt human trafficking and sexual abuse prevention education and training for students and teachers. The California Healthy Youth Act, passed in 2016, requires districts to provide comprehensive sexual health and HIV prevention education, including lessons on sex trafficking.

In 2017, the governor amended the act to include information on human trafficking as a whole, and training for educators to recognize abuse.

California is one of the largest sites of human trafficking in the U.S., according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. In 2016, 1,331 cases of human trafficking were reported there, and of those, 1,051 were sex trafficking cases.

Rocklin USD, about 22 miles northeast of Sacramento, implemented a human trafficking curriculum for the first time this semester.

“This is a large issue in California, and we want to be preventative rather than reactive in educating our students” says Superintendent Roger Stock. “If we can help students understand what it is, and what signs to look for, they may be able to alert someone if they or a friend or relative is involved.”

Children age 14 to 16 are most likely to be targeted for sex trafficking, according to the nonprofit Shared Hope International.

Many U.S. victims are homeless or runaways, LGBTQ, African-American or Latino, and those in the child welfare system, according to the nonprofit Thorn.

The exact number of U.S. victims of child sex trafficking remains unknown.

Informing parents

Before taking the proposed curriculum to the board for adoption, Rocklin USD convened a committee of educators, parents and community members to discuss how to approach these topics in the curriculum. The district also holds a health education preview night for parents, who can opt their students out of these lessons.

“We believe that providing parents an opportunity to see the material and to have a dialogue with our teachers is helpful because it offers context for parents, versus a child coming home talking about it” Stock says. “Offer that opportunity to parents, and do it annually.”

Understanding the crime

“Young people are more vulnerable to being trafficked if they don’t understand what trafficking is, or the motivation of someone who might traffic them” says Robert Benz, co-founder and executive vice president at Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, an anti-slavery organization that offers a human trafficking curriculum.

In the nonprofit’s curriculum, lessons vary by age. For example, in grade 9, the issue of trafficking is addressed directly, so students can understand it and the red flags. In grade 11, the discussion shifts to historical connections to contemporary slavery, Benz says.

Parent pushback is not usually an issue, Benz says. The problem is teachers are already burdened with a heavy workload.

“It’s important enough that they need to make room for it” Benz says. “If you ask teachers, especially in urban locations, how important it is, they’ll tell you.”

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