A girl begins skipping school. She is a good student and has never had this many absences before. She loves her English class but stops paying attention and submitting assignments. Her grades drop. She seems increasingly tired and distant. Her teacher notices a man who is not her family member dropping her off at school and knows something is wrong. Her teacher has received training to recognize what these signs can mean and knows exactly what to do to help.
Many Victims of Sex Trafficking are children or were first exploited when they were children. Traffickers prey on the vulnerabilities of their young Victims and know that they can coerce them into submission. The second largest system outside of the family unit where young Victims can be reached is the education system. Engaging with this system by training an entire workforce of caring educators and school staff to be able to spot the signs of Trafficking or the signs that someone is at risk of being Trafficked is a critical step in the prevention of this crime.
Educators occupy a unique position in a child’s life. They can observe the child closely in a controlled setting and notice significant changes in appearance and behavior. By nature, they are a trusting and responsible adult and can serve as a confidant for the child, creating a safe environment for them to get help and heal in. This protocol mandates the training of all teachers from Kindergarten to Grade 12 and provides intervention and prevention measures to the children who need them.
BridgeNorth co-created this protocol with our partners at the York Regional District School Board. It was first developed when educators who suspected that their students were being exploited wanted to know what they could do to help. This critical training will safe guard the lives of every child in Ontario. For example, school age children will often be lured, groomed, exploited, and Trafficked via online platforms. The training given identifies this component of Trafficking and encourages discussions about online safety and how to recognize predatory behaviour in online spaces. This protocol also recognizes that some students may be recruiting other students to be Trafficked and provides educators with the resources needed to identify perpetrators and catalyze intervention. Most importantly, this training allows school staff to recognize the early indicators of Trafficking, fostering an environment in which prevention can take the place of intervention.
The protocol trains school staff in a trauma-informed approach to tackling these issues and it is considerate of the cultural and historical implications of Sex Trafficking. Educators are given the background information and tools needed to connect students who are being exploited with the resources they need to live a life of freedom. Given this information, school staff know what to look for and can identify cases of Trafficking. The protocol mandates that all suspected and disclosed cases of Trafficking identified by school staff be reported. Recognizing that schools need external support from experts on this issue, the mandate of this protocol allows community groups, like BridgeNorth, to be present in schools when they are needed, supporting both students and staff. Enabling organizations like BridgeNorth to reach children who are at risk of or are being Trafficked ensures that they will be provided with the supports that meet their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs.