In 2016 the California legislature passed a law requiring all students to learn about human trafficking and healthy relationships at least twice in their academic careers: in middle school and high school. Yet to this day, many teachers and districts struggle to fulfill this requirement. Meanwhile students are learning about human trafficking from popular media sources, including sensational films and TikTok videos. This leaves students (and teachers) unprepared to recognize the signs and vulnerabilities needed to protect themselves and their peers from exploitation. As a result, we are missing the opportunity to equip this generation with the accurate information they need to fight modern day slavery.
In Orange County, we know our youth are at risk of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. Sadly, it is often the children who have already suffered most—through broken and dysfunctional relationships, child sexual abuse, systemic poverty, and racial discrimination— that are trafficked in our community. Between 2021 – 2022, 420 victims of human trafficking were identified and supported in Orange County, according to the latest report by the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force (OCHTTF). Minors, who are victims of sex trafficking, make up 32% (the 2nd largest group) of all the human trafficking victims found in Orange County, and male minor sex trafficking victims are four percent. Within the group minor sex trafficking victims, 10% were children 13 years old or under, 35% were 14 to 15 years old, and 55% were 16 to 17 years old when found. Between the years 2015 and 2022, 503 minors were identified by Orange County Social Services Agency as victims of commercial sexual exploitation; 70% of the victims were residents of Orange County
Public schools are obligated by law (The California Healthy Youth Act) to teach students about human trafficking. They play a critical role in empowering children to stay safe, including those who may not have healthy family systems, and schools ought to be equipping teachers and staff to recognize the signs to protect, respond, and support vulnerable students.
Last year, the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force (OCHTTF), a collaborative of approximately 60 governmental and community-based organizations, initiated a new event to teach youth and support teachers and school-based staff in their efforts to prevent human trafficking. Due to its success, they are hosting the event again this year. This event, titled “Know More, Do Better”, will be held on January 31st at Vanguard University. This free event will have keynote speakers with lived experience, conversations, and interactive activities for 500 middle school students to learn about human trafficking, online exploitation, grooming techniques, healthy relationships, and seeking help. Students will become leaders and peer educators and return to their campuses to spread the message about human trafficking.
Live2Free, the Vanguard University anti-trafficking student group, will play a critical role in presenting at this event on topics such as the risks of sharing compromising images, the harms of pornography, how students can address labor trafficking, and how to become student abolitionists. In addition, there will be resource tables, interactive games and prizes, as well as access to therapy dogs and onsite counselors. We are recruiting Vanguard students, including teachers in training, to join us in welcoming these students, giving VU students an opportunity to learn as they prepare to serve the youth of Orange County.
We are excited about this opportunity for Vanguard and the GCWJ to partner with the OCHTTF to serve our community, to build relationships with over 20 non-profit organizations, and to welcome the 500 students who will attend from over 20 middle schools throughout the county. We hope to impact a new generation of students to make personal choices that protect themselves, their peers, and prevent modern day slavery.
Written by Ruthi Hanchett, Live2Free Coach and Adjunct Professor of Human Trafficking