Kimberly Casey is the U.S. Prevention Education Manager for Love146.
The Prevention Education team spends a lot of time teaching. In fact, since this time last year, we have educated 2,511 youth and 1,144 adults — spending between one and fourteen hours with each of them. That said, one of our core values is that we approach each interaction as learners.
To quote Bill Nye (the Science Guy):
“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.”
In July, we officially launched the Prevention Education program in Texas. For our first two classes, we requested more time with each group so they could inform our curriculum. We use evaluation tools in every class, but we rarely have time for structured verbal feedback and reflection.
In this case we taught the curriculum as we normally would, and then we asked the youth to answer a few specific questions and share their thoughts about what they had heard. We wanted them to teach us, and we were not disappointed.
The two groups were, in many ways, in direct contrast to each other. The first consisted of older youth from low-socio economic families with one or both parents incarcerated. The second was a group of younger students from middle class families with a conservative faith background and active parental involvement.
All but one of the youths in the first group had experienced sexual abuse, and many had been homeless. When we defined human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation, it gave a name to an activity they had seen in their communities.
At the onset, the second group had peripheral knowledge about the issue — primarily in the international context and based on snippets of information from television or movies. When we asked them what they knew about the prevalence of the issue in Texas, we were met with a long pause and confused expressions.
The idea that youth in their communities were at risk was not something they had considered:
“No, I think maybe that happens in California, but not in Texas,” was one response. The first group, on the other hand, responded with, “Oh, you’re talking about [insert slang reference of choice here].”
As I reflected on the two groups, I was reminded of a discussion on Gulliver’s Travels in my college English literature class. As Jonathan Swift delineates Gulliver’s interactions with the Lilliputians, Brobdingnagians, and others, he introduced an important notion — perspective. Gulliver provides great detail about the people that he meets during his travels (i.e. the small stature of the Lilliputians and the enormity of the Brobdingnagians) without considering that his personal experiences determined his understanding of the strangers he met. The lens by which he looked at things influenced how he processed information.
The youth we interact with are often as different as the Lilliputians and the Brobdingnagians, and they view the issue of trafficking through very different lenses.
They view our facilitators through different lenses. In order to engage them, we must understand these varied perspectives and prepare to meet youth where they are. The only way to bring this about is to listen. I’m not impartial in this, but I believe that our facilitators excel in approaching each student in a way that is relatable and relevant to their reality. I’m thrilled when our team receives comments like this one:
“You stepped out of yourself and came to where we were.”
In the end, when students tell us that, “this helped me to open my eyes to see something differently” and “it truly change my way of thinking,” we know we’re moving in the right direction.
To find out more about our U.S. Prevention program, visit: www.love146.org/prevention-education