In my first year as a staff assistant working at the U.S. Department of Education, I attended a lot of meetings. Six years removed there are few that I remember, but one lingers in my mind. Looking across the table at the people who had gathered, I remember saying something to the effect of:
“Wait, are you telling me there are potentially trafficked kids in our schools?”
Early in the global conversation on human trafficking, there was little focus on domestic sex trafficking. I was familiar with the concept of underage brothels in Asia and corrupt government officials profiting from mob-controlled trafficking rings in Eastern Europe, but the idea that American children were being sold at night and sent to school in the morning was not something I’d ever considered. The evidence was too compelling to ignore, and we began to question how these children could be protected.
In 2010, Love146 set out to develop a pilot program in Connecticut for that same purpose—to reach children before traffickers do and give help to those who were already being exploited. Since, we have reached nearly 5,000 youth with the knowledge and resources they need to protect themselves and their peers. FAIR Girls has been an integral ally from the start by providing one of our most commonly used curricula—Tell Your Friends—and was a natural partner for the first step in our expansion.
The Love146 + FAIR Girls team in Baltimore, aided by our partners at Turn Around, is already hard at work to achieve our goal to reach 1,000 at-risk youth in local schools, group homes and other community settings. We will also work with local partners to come alongside adults that interact with at-risk youth to teach them how to protect youth and respond to incidents of exploitation. Whether speaking to a classroom full of youth or a conference room with police officers, each workshop provides a great opportunity to influence the trajectory of the life of a child at risk.
The sexual exploitation of youth in America is incredibly complex. Gone are the days that pimps operate separate from each other. Traffickers have learned that their influence increases when they work together to meet their primary objective—profit.
We are pleased that FAIR Girls and other local partners share our belief that those of us that are working to prevent the sex trafficking of America’s youth must be even more strategic in our partnerships. Otherwise, traffickers will have the final word.
And that is simply unacceptable.
Kimberly Casey is Love146’s U.S. Prevention Education Manager. In this position, she manages Love146′s efforts to prevent child trafficking and exploitation through education and training for at-risk children and the professionals who interact with them. She also oversees associated program components such as intervention and mentoring. Previously, Kimberly worked at the U.S. Department of Education in the Office of International Affairs where she facilitated international exchanges between the U.S. Secretary of Education and her international counterparts and worked to create dialogue between international partners on literacy and basic education.