In the neighborhood of Little Village in the southwest side of Chicago, a woman was found to have operated several brothels in the community. Rubicela Montero, a 38-year old mother, had not been able to find young girls to meet the demand of her clientele. However, she met a 16-year old girl student at the Roberto Clemente Community Academy through her son, and hired her into prostitution. Montero even picked up the 16-year old girl at her high school and transported her to the brothel while still donning her school uniform.
Perhaps if the student’s teachers had noticed signs of change in her behavior, this transaction between trafficker and victim could have been avoided. Even if there were no noticeable signs, would students be cognizant of the ways in which traffickers target them?
In 2011, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimated that 100,000 American children were at risk of being trafficked into commercially sexually exploitative acts. Girls are being targeted at as young as 12 to 14 years old, and boys, 11 to 13 years old.
Traffickers exploit school children because of their vulnerability and because the market demands young victims. Traffickers target children on the way to and from school and at school-sponsored events. They also use teenagers who have already been solicited to recruit their peers and friends or seduce girls with the “loverboy” approach. A particularly insidious way that traffickers recruit is through skip parties.
Educators and the school staff are in strategic positions of influence to address domestic human trafficking because they spend considerable amounts of time daily with the same students and are able to build relationships with them, if they so choose. They also have the responsibility to report suspected exploitations of their students to law enforcement. The importance of school teachers, administrators, and staff to know how to identify signs of vulnerability for trafficking and how to address them is undervalued.
Some identifying signs of trafficking include:
- Runaway behavior
- Mentions of frequent travels to other cities
- Signs of physical trauma, withdrawn behavior, depression, or fear
- Limited control over one’s schedule or identification documents
- Hungry, malnourished, or inappropriately dressed for the weather and school
- Sudden change in behavior or material possessions (owns and displays expensive items)
- Referencing sexual situations or terminology of the commercial sex industry that are beyond age-specific norms
- Having a “boyfriend” who is significantly older (10+ years)
- Engaging in sexually promiscuous behavior
Schools can collectively respond while also inviting their communities to participate in awareness. With an increase number of community members who can identify warning signs, traffickers will be more wary of their actions, which could lead to a decrease of trafficking activity in that area.
Here are ways that schools implement protective and preventative measures:
- Find out the reasons for each student’s decrease in school attendance & engagement
- Train school staff on how to identify and report warning signs
- Train counselors and social workers on how to educate students on the subject of trafficking and work with student victims through creative and supportive outreach
- Implement protocol on computer and cell phone use in school
- Ensure that the campus structure is secure and safe for students
- Inform the community surrounding the school and coordinate a community response
- Incorporate restorative and transformative justice
Program Development Intern
U.S. Department of Education. Human Trafficking of Children in the United States: A Fact Sheet for Schools.