Opinion: San Diego schools begin human trafficking prevention education

Human trafficking could involve abduction, kidnapping, violence, forced marriage, prostitution, selling organs or illegal work.
(File Photo)

Opinion / Guest Commentary / Our Readers Write:

FBI data indicates that San Diego ranks as one of the top 13 worst regions for human trafficking, and San Diego County ranks in the top three areas in the state for human trafficking.

Victims can be anyone — women, men, children, U.S. citizens or foreign nationals. However, in the area of sex-trafficking, minors are particularly vulnerable targets.

Social media is one way traffickers access and exploit children. To combat this problem, the San Diego County Office of Education and the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office are now part of the San Diego Trafficking Prevention Collective.

This new program aims to bring human trafficking education, prevention and awareness training into every public school in the County to protect children from exploitation. The Collective empowers students in elementary, middle and high school, and teaches them about human trafficking in schools and neighborhoods through a three-pronged approach: 1) in-school prevention education, 2) afterschool intervention, and 3) interactive multimedia training.

Human trafficking is the second largest criminal industry in the world. Traffickers profit by preying on unsuspecting children, luring them out of their schools and homes with deception and lies. This first-of-its-kind human trafficking prevention education collective will arm our kids with the knowledge and tools they need to protect themselves and to engage with trusted adults to help them remain free of abuse and exploitation.

The ugly truth is that schools across the County have confirmed that traffickers actively recruit children on or near school campuses and use social media to lure and manipulate victims. In fact, 90 percent of high schools studied in San Diego County identified cases of human trafficking involving students, according to a 2016 study done by Point Loma Nazarene University and the University of San Diego.

By taking a proactive approach to address the commercial sexual exploitation of students, we are more likely to reduce the incidents. So far, the districts using the free curriculum include San Diego Unified, Sweetwater Union High School District, Escondido Union High School District, San Dieguito Union High School District, Poway Unified, and San Pasqual Union Elementary School District.

Mark Powell is vice president of the San Diego County Board of Education, representing District 1. He’s also an adjunct professor at National University.