Davis School District implements training to recognize and prevent human traffickingJan 21, 2021 10:22AM ● By Peri Kinder
Human trafficking is a multibillion-dollar global industry that traps millions of children and adults into modern slavery. Through violence, fraud or coercion, traffickers use victims to provide commercial sex or forced labor against their will.
Unfortunately, Utah is not immune to trafficking. Based on numbers provided by the Asian Association of Utah (an organization that helps human trafficking survivors), 135 clients (mostly female) were assisted during 2019. In the first six months of 2020, the AAU had already helped 116 victims, putting it on track so far to exceed the 2019 numbers.
Two years ago, the Utah State Legislature mandated that all school districts offer trafficking awareness and prevention training to faculty, staff, parents, and students.
PRevention Organized To Educate Children on Trafficking (PROTECT) is a program launched through 3Strands Global. Terry Palmer, Utah director of PROTECT, helped organize training that has reached nearly 20,000 school employees, including the Davis School District.
“Across the country, Utah is number 36 in the number of cases reported, but fourth in the nation in cases per capita,” Palmer said. “We have quite a few cases, especially during these COVID times where child abuse numbers are up.”
The program is an in-depth online training that discusses the signs of human trafficking, trauma-informed care and reporting. PROTECT also provides curriculum for students.
Fifth graders are taught to trust their intuition, learn how to say no and identify safe adults in their world. Seventh graders learn everyone has value. “If you value someone, you don’t buy or sell them,” Palmer said.
Students in ninth grade learn what human trafficking looks like and 11th graders are taught about historical and modern slavery.
“The best way to rescue someone is to make sure it never happens in the first place,” Palmer said. “We’re conditioned to look away from people who are desperate but when people start to look at human trafficking, we’re talking about drug addicts, the homeless and runaways.”
Homeless teens are easy targets for traffickers who coerce the minors to exchange sex for a place to live, or for food.
“It’s called survivor sex, and it’s a trafficking crime if the person is a minor,” Palmer said. “If you are buying sex from a minor, you are trafficking because a minor cannot consent.”
COVID has intensified the human trafficking crisis. Landlord abuse is on the rise, where a landlord asks for sex in lieu of rent. Minors are being forced to panhandle, which is also a trafficking crime, and parents are selling their children to traffickers.
“The average age of a child being trafficked is 13, but ages have dropped now that it’s being done online,” Palmer said.
Christi Blankman, Davis School District’s K-12 Prevention Coordinator, said the training has been well-received and the PROTECT prevention curriculum was used in health classes as part of the PROTECT pilot program.
“I haven’t taken it myself yet, but from what I’ve heard it’s really great material. It’s an in-depth online training that gives us signs and things to look for to bring more of an awareness,” Blankman said. “I’m sure people were surprised to learn it’s going on more than we realize.”
Kids who have gone through trauma and women who feel disempowered are more likely to be trafficked. Supporting places like The Road Home, the local food bank, or women’s shelters helps empower women and fights human trafficking.
“It’s out in the open,” Palmer said. “We’re not seeing it even though it’s right in front of our eyes.”