Education has long been used in the prevention of human trafficking. For instance, embassies and consulates include trafficking warnings and trafficking hotlines in information to individuals seeking visas, especially those individuals coming to be domestic servants. Tourists are educated in airports about the legal penalties of sexually exploiting vulnerable children. Flight attendants and hotel operators are trained in how to recognize and safely report potential trafficking victims. Members of the law enforcement community are educated in the procedures for identifying trafficking victims among migrant and refugee flows. International organizations have targeted aid for trafficking awareness education in countries where severe lack of economic opportunity makes teens extremely vulnerable to sham offers of jobs abroad.
But education needs to expand beyond the awareness. Traffickers are increasingly preying upon children’s social vulnerability, not just economic need. Social vulnerability—such as feelings of alienation, unresolved emotional or physical abuse, learning disabilities, or unfamiliarity with a new culture and language—means that children of every socio-economic background are at risk of being taken advantage of by traffickers.
Many young people often have unlimited and unmonitored access to the internet which can endanger them. Traffickers set up fake profiles on social media and seek children they can extort into trafficking. A child sends a half-naked photo to their “new friend” on social media, who then threatens to send the photos to the child’s parents and friends—unless the child does as they say.
No child is immune, but some are now smarter than their would-be traffickers. Non-governmental organizations in the United States and United Kingdom have been taking prevention to new heights through programs to train children in schools how to avoid being ensnared by human traffickers. Including age-appropriate, anti-trafficking education of teachers and school children in the standard curriculum for all children means that the suffering and harm caused by human trafficking can be halted early—or avoided altogether. Targeting at-risk communities with prevention and educational campaigns can stop the flow of people being trafficked in the United States, and in countries across the globe.