By: Lauren Perrodin

CSEC stands for Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children and refers to trading youth sex slavery for monetary or other value gains at the expense of the child.

Child trafficking is not an easy topic, yet it’s a growing concern affecting more people than you think. California is one of the leading states for child trafficking, according to the California Department of Justice, because it is a large border state with a significant immigration rate and an equally large economy.

When the topic of child trafficking comes up, the thought may eventually cross your mind about who in your immediate circle could be at risk. The children who are most at risk are the most vulnerable. Children without homes and those in foster care, as well as those who have experienced early-life trauma or are at risk of gang exposure, are among the most vulnerable to child trafficking.

So, how do you keep an eye out for youth and talk with them about trafficking in a way that is both age-appropriate and keeps them safe? Here are some ways to approach this sensitive topic and the resources available.

How to Talk to Vulnerable Youth About Trafficking and Stranger Danger

Governing departments of California are aware of this unsettling situation and can help you reach out to the right person when you suspect something dangerous may be happening. The Blue Campaign, developed by the Department of Homeland Security, outlines how to talk to kids, what to look for and how to support a safer environment.

Let’s go over a few of their points:

Building up Healthy Communication and a Safe Space

Talking to kids of all ages about trafficking can be tricky, given the gravity of the situation. However, there are more straightforward ways of approaching the topic such as building social-emotional learning (SEL).

SEL gives students a space to voice their feelings, offering a safe environment to communicate if they're uncomfortable or in a bad place. It’s essential to let kids know that they can talk to any adult that they trust about an event or interaction with a stranger.

What does a healthy relationship with adults look like?

Sometimes children may come from a difficult background and not have the understanding of what a healthy relationship with an adult really looks like.

For younger children, the classroom is a great place to start building this image. Teachers can help them to recognize when someone may be asking a strange question, or to understand that certain boundaries shouldn't be crossed. In doing so, the teacher could support healthy relationships in their adult lives down the line.

Language to Avoid

Kids today already have to deal with a lot on their minds just stepping foot in a school. Therefore, ensuring you’re using sensitive language around the topic of human trafficking is essential to not adding more fear into their lives.

With this in mind, try to avoid using crime-specific language such as “human trafficking.” This word, in and of itself, could be overwhelming and disturbing to the point of children not taking it seriously or tuning you out altogether.

Online Safety

Millennials were the first generation that needed conversations around open forums and talking with strangers online. This conversation must continue and remain relevant for kids today as well. Apps like TikTok and Instagram are open for commenting and direct messaging that could put kids at risk of exposing themselves to predators.

While you can’t stop kids from being on these platforms, it is helpful to have a conversation about:

  • Privacy.
  • Refraining from telling someone where they live.
  • Not sending pictures of themselves to strangers.
  • Not meeting up with strangers without their guardian present.
  • Not telling someone how old they are.

How do you know if a child is at risk or involved in trafficking?

Human trafficking is a $150 billion-a-year global industry and perpetrators are clever. While it may be difficult to spot traffickers right off the bat, there are signs that a student may have fallen victim. The U.S. Department of Education outlines signs of a student in need, here are a few signs to look out for:

  • Large age gap with a new romantic partner.
  • Mentions of needing money (to pay off a large debt).
  • Running away from home often.
  • Missing school.
  • Malnutrition and visible bruising.
  • A new opportunity that requires them to move far away from home.

Some of these items could also be signs of abuse, but if you’ve already established a healthy line of communication, taking a moment to check in with the child could make a huge difference.

California Legislation that has Helped Prevent Trafficking

You’re not alone in this effort. California has created legislation aimed at preventing human trafficking, outlining the consequences for traffickers who are caught.

For example, businesses, hotels and motels are all required to post support and service lines in conspicuous places for victims to use. You may have seen them when using the restroom on the backside of the bathroom stall door.

Finally, if a trafficker is caught, their actions are considered a felony. For a full list of laws regarding child trafficking, you can peruse the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) website.

Together We Can Stop Human Trafficking

The best resources for stopping child trafficking are understanding and research. Thanks to a partnership with Riverside County Department of Public Social Services (DPSS), UCR University Extension offers FREE comprehensive awareness courses you can enroll in today.