Recognizing Human Trafficking and What To Do About It in Schools

Human trafficking is on the rise in the United States. Some states now include human trafficking in their definition of child abuse. Others do not. In today’s show, Ashley Burkett talks about the signs that a child is being trafficked, how children are being recruited, and what schools should be doing. This is an important topic to discuss so we can protect innocent children.

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Important Information to Share about Stopping Human Trafficking

Written by Ashley Burkett. This is the most important resource that I mentioned during the podcast if you would like to make a note of it; it was published by the U.S. Department of Education. Human Trafficking in America's Schools –

As of 2016, seven states included a comprehensive definition of the crime of human trafficking, including labor trafficking, involuntary servitude, or trafficking of minors, in the definition of child abuse: Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Utah.

Twenty-one states specifically include the term “sex trafficking” in their civil definitions of child abuse: Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, and Vermont.

(Information is from Child Welfare Information Gateway)

As educators, please advocate to local representatives for a comprehensive definition of human trafficking that includes both sexual exploitation and forced labor to be added to the state definition of child abuse.

Is Human Sex Trafficking a Problem in the United States?

Using many of the statistics I found here, here is a transcript of the opinion I posted at the end of today’s show. Please educate yourself as to your school and state laws and policies.

Today’s guest pointed out that many states have not defined human trafficking as part of child abuse. My own state of Georgia doesn’t include human trafficking as part of its definition of child abuse. Go to the show notes at to find out about your state. Stay tuned at the end of the show to learn more facts about human trafficking and what I uncovered when I did some research to educate myself.

I know that usually the 10-Minute Teacher is about improving your classroom today. Kip and I have had long and heated discussions about whether we should air this show. It is a very real possibility as Kip said just tonight that some people who are blissfully unaware of this problem will tune out in their anger, disbelief, and upset feelings.

But we need to know how to recognize the signs. We also need to advocate for laws in our states to add human trafficking to the definition of child abuse.

Human trafficking is an estimated $150 billion dollar industry. Any time when there is a crowd of people with lots of disposable income at a high ticket event who have the attitude of “wheels up, rings off” we will have innocent children who will be harmed unless we make this a priority. I can be concerts, conventions, and major sporting events wherever they are held, even here in my home state of Georgia.

A study from the University of Pennsylvania estimated that nearly 300,000 youth were at risk of being sexually exploited for commercial uses and many are as young as 5 and 6 years old. And many of these kids are in school at least sometimes in order to not draw attention to what is happening.

In 2017, the United States was swept with a Me too campaign. And yes, I am a me too.

But as Kip and I discussed tonight at the dinner table, media is just that social “me” dia with an ME. Do we even care about her? Do we care about him? Do we care about them? If it isn’t me, do I care?

Well, the best people I know are classroom teachers. I know that you’ll educate yourself. I know that you’ll find out the rules in your state. And remember that if you want to report suspected trafficking call the national human trafficking hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text 233733.


Enhanced Transcript

Recognizing Human Trafficking and What To Do About It in Schools

Link to show:
Date: January 4, 2018

Vicki: Human Trafficking. A lot of people don’t want to talk about it, but it’s there. Today we’re talking with Ashley Burkett about how educators, specifically here in the United States, can take a stand against human trafficking.

Is it a problem, and what can we do?

So, Ashley, first of all, is human trafficking a problem that educators in the United States should concern themselves with?

Ashley: Absolutely. Some reports have come out saying that there are over 21 million cases of human trafficking reported annually around the world, and North America represents about 1.5 million cases. That’s 10%. So we do have a problem here.

Vicki: So what does it look like in schools? I mean, because some people would think, that if somebody is involved in human trafficking, they wouldn’t be in school.

Ashley: There are definitely ways that traffickers are able to maintain a student’s school attendance. They may be pulling a student and recruiting them directly from school, and saying, “Hey, I have some money that you can make from me. Just come after school.”

They don’t want to raise suspicions. Perhaps the child is frequently absent from school, but they are from an unstable environment. These are all different ways that they are able to remain in school without raising suspicions. Traffickers are very quick to hide their crime.

Vicki: OK, so you’ve talked a little bit about what it looks like. So what are we supposed to observe. Absences? What are some other things that we can notice to help us understand that a child may be at risk for being trafficked?

What are the signs a child is being trafficked?

Ashley: There are so many different signs and behavioral indicators of child sex trafficking and child labor trafficking.

For sex trafficking victims, they may be frequently traveling to a different city, or they may be frequently running away from home. They may talk about being in a hotel, but they are a child so they would not usually have access to a hotel.

Another thing is unexplained absences that regularly occur if their attendance has dropped from regularly attendance to somewhat attending to frequently being away for 1-2 weeks at a time.

They also may be inappropriately dressed based upon the weather, malnourished, or have signs of drug addiction or physical abuse.

And then another key indicator to look for in child trafficking — and teachers are at a great advantage here because they see a child on a day-to-day basis — is whether the child is sporting a new haircut that looks like that child definitely wouldn’t have been able to afford.

Do they have a new phone? Any sort of material possession? Are they getting their nails done more frequently, purchasing more and more new clothes in name brands? These are all signs that there’s an income for that child that may or may not be legal.

What do we do if we suspect trafficking?

Vicki: OK. So those are things we can observe. What do we as teachers do?

I mean, you can’t really pick up the phone and say, “Hey, I have a student who doesn’t have a lot of money who’s suddenly wearing designer jeans.”

How do we handle this?

Ashley: As educators, it’s important to develop a safe environment for that child so that the teacher may be able to confront the child and say, you know, “Who have you been hanging out with?”

And if it’s a male who is older — and I’m specifically talking about sex trafficking here, because sex trafficking is the case type that you see most often in the United States. “You have an older boyfriend. I’ve seen you hanging out with him. What does he do? Where does he take you? What do you do for him?”

Maybe developing that relationship, that rapport with a student in order to get them to come forward.

Another one is to understand the school’s policies. Are there policies in place for reporting child trafficking to the department of social services in that county or state? As a mandatory reporter, certain states have a definition of child abuse that includes child trafficking, so if a teacher suspects any form of child trafficking they may be required legally by the state to report it directly.

Vicki: So you’re telling me some states do not have mandatory reporting if you suspect child trafficking? That’s what you’re telling me?

Ashley: Not all states, no.

Vicki: Does that bother you?

Ashley: It definitely bothers me, but I think that it’s just a lack of awareness. More and more states are recognizing child trafficking in their definition of child abuse, which is great, but it’s really spreading the conversation, talking about what is human trafficking, and really getting people to understand that it is in our backyard.

Vicki: Will you give us a list of those states, because I know our listeners will want to know which states are not requiring mandatory reporting of sex trafficking.

Ashley: Yes.

Vicki: OK, you can send that to me and we will put it in the Shownotes.

Provided by Ashley: Human Trafficking in America's Schools –

As of 2016, seven states included a comprehensive definition of the crime of human trafficking, including labor trafficking, involuntary servitude, or trafficking of minors, in the definition of child abuse: Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Utah.

Twenty-one states specifically include the term “sex trafficking” in their civil definitions of child abuse: Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, and Vermont.

So… are there things that other students can do? You know, sometimes other students are in on the conversations that we teachers never hear. What can they do?

How can other students speak up?

Ashley: Absolutely. A friend would be able to pick up on someone else’s behavior more than an adult, but a lot of times what you can do as a student… I advocate for both educators and students alike to educate yourself on trafficking.

Understand the local issue. The National Human Trafficking Hotline has statistics for a state-by-state basis, so you can look at your state and see how many cases of trafficking have been reported in your state so far this year.

You can also research the companies that are around you, “Where are you getting your nails done?” As a student, “Where are you going to get your hair done?” Are those people all there willingly? Are they hiring girls who seem like they’re underage?

Raise awareness. Join a local organization.

But then, as a student specifically, there are so many ways that you have to confide. It’s about creating that safe environment for a student so that they feel ready to confide.

If they notice that a peer might be suddenly not able to do as many things that they were once able to do. If they sound like they have a rehearsed line every single time, like, “Oh I’m sorry, I cannot because…” and it’s not like themselves anymore. Or if they start to pull away from the friend group and definitely are hanging out with an older group of gentlemen or older woman.

These are all signs that you can alert to, but I encourage students to be aware of your friend groups. Be aware of what’s going on. And stay safe online, because most students meet their traffickers online.

How are traffickers recruiting their victims?

Vicki: Really. Most students meet their traffickers online? How?

Ashley: Traffickers will have fake Facebook accounts, or on Kik, or on Whatsapp. They may use Snapchat, Instagram. But they will lure students into talking to them, into a conversation, developing a friendship or a relationship with students.

Students who are vulnerable, who crave attention, who crave that type of secure relationship — they will prey on that. When the student then comes face-to-face with someone, it may not be exactly who they thought it was online. Or it is who they thought they were with online, but slowly they’ll use that relationship to their advantage to get the student to do exactly what they want them to do.

Advice for Parents

Vicki: What can parents do?

Ashley: I really think that parents should just be aware of who your children are talking to. It’s so important to be actively involved in your child’s social media. Don’t think that means you have to check every single day, but…

Also understanding who they are developing relationships with, whether it’s online, whether it’s in person.

Traffickers may also be outside of schools. They hang out outside of schools sometimes.

So just knowing who is in your child’s friend group, knowing what they are doing online and who they might be connecting with.

And then giving your child that sense of security in their relationship, so that they don’t feel the need to crave that attention elsewhere.

Why is this a passion for Ashley?

Vicki: Ashley, you’re obviously passionate about this. Why?

Ashley: When I was in college, I traveled to Malaysia. I saw firsthand just how devastating the effects of trafficking are on a family.

When I returned home, I went to different organizations’ events, and I listened to countless stories told by these women who have just been absolutely devastated physically and emotionally taken advantage of, and I just hate to see the way that we hurt each other.

This is such a broken part of our society. It’s hidden. It’s hard to find. More people need to know about it. I feel very strongly that we should be having these conversations.

Vicki: So Ashley, tell us a few resources we can go to to find good information for how to combat human trafficking. Those who prey on the innocent and the young and the weak… It’s just despicable.

We’ve got to educate ourselves, even though it’s uncomfortable.

Ashley: Yes, absolutely. I have plenty of resources.

As I said, the Polaris Project… They operate the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which offers a variety of statistics based on state and national levels. They can break down what sort of trafficking is occurring right now, whether it’s sex trafficking or labor trafficking, and where is it happening.

For teachers, there’s specifically a resource, Human Trafficking in American Schools. You can access it at the National Center on Safe SUpportive Learning Environment.

You can check out the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. They have plenty of great information. They have infographics that you can hang in a classroom. They have indicators of human trafficking, risk factors, what does it look like, and many other facts.

So those are a couple of great resources that I would recommend that are U.S. specific.

Vicki: So educators, we do have to educate ourselves. We do have to understand our legal requirements for each state, and the indicators to look for.

This is just so important. If you can just imagine that, if you could help save one child from being exploited in this way.

But we can’t just settle for just one. This is something we all have to speak about, even though it is uncomfortable, even though it is hard. We’ve got to have these conversations. These are important to have with our students, important to have with one another. Let’s take action. Let’s not sit here with our eyes closed and our ears covered. Let’s open our eyes, open our ears, and step forward to make progress.


Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford

Bio as submitted

Ashley Burkett recently returned from a ten month internship with International Justice Mission in South Asia. Currently, she devotes her time to substitute teaching, opportunities in outreach, and channeling her passion for social justice into local anti-human trafficking initiatives.


Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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