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We are working on preventing sexual exploitation. I have given some tools that will help us see if young girls are vulnerable. Even though we may be attentive and kind, there are still some girls that will be introduced to the life. Force, fraud and coercion takes on many faces and will keep us preventing for a long time to come. We need to know what it looks like when someone enters the life.
Warning signs of the life are going to be closely related to the warning signs abuse and depression. I am hoping that teachers especially are taught how to spot the warning signs of sex trafficking, as they can become frontline warriors as we fight against this evil. They are around the kids and get to see all sorts of behavior and development in our children. If you see these signs and are concerned that one of your students may be in the life don’t hesitate to call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. Your actions could change your student’s life.
In adolescence, change is normal, but drastic and immediate changes in attitude, attention span, hygiene and body care could be signs of the life. If they are in the life, their mind is not going to be what it once was. How could it be? They likely have had their world view shattered and their young brains are working to figure it out. School for these young girls will not be as important as it once was. These warning signs can mean a number of things for the student, but if you notice it let them know. If you do this in a gentle, loving and discrete manor it will let the girl know that someone recognizes that they are going through a hard time. Maybe they will allow you or a school counselor to help them.
Sleeping at school or always being tiered is another sign. I once worked with a fourth grader who always looked tiered. He would yawn and look off into space. When I looked into it, he told me that he stayed up until 3 a.m. every night watching YouTube for hours on end. No wonder he was always tiered. This too can be evidence of entering the life. If a child was always attentive or at least fresh for the day and now they are falling asleep at every class period, this is a strong sign that something has changed in their life away from school. Again, in a gentle and discreet manor, check in with the student. Find out what is going on, so that you may help them.
If there is drastic weight loss, a loss of appetite or other physical changes outside of the norm, check in with the youth. Other physical changes like constant bruises, broken bones, cutting or hygiene changes are indicators that something is going on. If these things are happening on a regular basis, report it to the right channels in the school that are going to be helpful. I would like to think that all school teachers and counselors are wonderful, altruistic people, who at school because they care deeply for the youth and want to see them succeed. I know this is naïve to think that every teacher is that way, but there are at least a handful of them at each school. Stick together and care for your students. If you are at a school where the counselors are not great, find some outside resources that will be helpful. There are a lot of good people in your community who care about youth; find them and let them help.
I fully suspect that no matter how kind, loving, concerned and discreet you are when asking about these things you will get nervous or vague answers. Being fearful and timid, they don’t want you to find out what is going on. If coercion is involved, they don’t want to let their secrets out in fear of the repercussions. If the student is no longer able to clearly answer questions about where they are staying, or what is going on these might be signs of something deeper happening in their life. I would hope that we can use wisdom and ask good questions of these students. This coupled with consistency and kindness might just save their life.
If any of the above are happening and there is an older boyfriend, then report it to the proper authorities. If you are unsure call the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Having an older boyfriend intensifies the warning signs. Nice, new clothes or jewelry could also be multipliers, especially if you know the youth comes from poverty. These things don’t mean they are in life, but they are strong indications. It could be that the older boyfriend is controlling and not a pimp, but a controlling boyfriend can do all sorts of damage too.
When you ask about these signs, please remember that these youth don’t want to tell you. Don’t get offended. Stay strong and consistent, kind and loving. Please don’t accuse them of being in the life. You don’t want to put this additional shame on them. If they are displaying any of the signs above, the student is already going through rough times, they don’t need the shame of a teacher thinking they are a prostitute. You can figure out ways and get training on how to ask these things in a non-shaming way.
I have written this as a very brief guide to help particularly school teachers spot signs of sex trafficking. If you are a teacher, ask your school district to help you and your fellow teachers in deepening your skill at spotting signs of distress in your students. I know you are an educator and not a physiatrist, but you are the best people we have. Your consistency in the lives or our youth give you the unique perspective to see changes in behavior. Remember, even if you don’t always hear about us, there are members of your community who are thankful for you and pray that you can keep up the good fight.
Unfortunately, it is harder to spot these signs in someone who has graduated and isn’t seen by caring adults every day. Grooming and moving girls into the life doesn’t end with high school. After high school there is a major disconnect from the steady life that school brings and moves youth into adulthood. These signs could easily go unnoticed. This should never prevent us as friends from asking questions if these signs are seen. Adults need attentive caring friends who aren’t scared to ask hard questions if something look like its going wrong.
I am working against sexual exploitation. I want women to be loved and cared for, not used and abused. I will work for a world where women know they are born worthy of love and respect. Their age, race, religion, creed or anything else doesn’t matter to me if they know they are loved and can live out of their being loved. The signs that are given here are signs that will indicate that love is not present; let us work towards love. May we never grow weary in this work. Unless this world changes and everyone is kind, sexual exploitation will keep happening, and we can keep loving.