Its fall. Sometimes its hard to tell when you live in Southern California – yes, I’ve become a weather wimp. I recently visited the mid-west and the temperature started to drop, it was like I was freezing to death. In many parts of the country these signs tell us that the seasons are changing, things are going to be different and we need to look for these indicators.
Fall means the start of school, whether you like it or not – most parents are not complaining. With that knowledge I’d like to point out a few things that you -especially if you work in or near schools can look for to look for children who may be exploited or at risk for exploitation. Children and youth spend at least six hours a day with teachers, staff and other school officials. Teachers are well trained on signs of abuse (physical, sexual, neglect, and even emotional abuse) and are mandated reporters. If a teacher, staff, principal, etc. sees abuse such as a bruise or signs of sexual abuse they know what to do – they call the hotline and know that their will be action from the county.
However, many school staff, including teachers and parents don’t know what to do if they saw signs of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children. Do they even know that it is going on to children and youth in their local community and would they know what to look for? If a staff member or parent doesn’t know what to look for – how can they report it?
As a minor, I attended school and unfortunately I was never reported to any state agency.
Here are 4 things to look for in the coming school year.
- A child that is overly tired during the school day on a regular basis. As a child who was being exploited early in life I was tired often when I came to school. Sometimes for children and youth it may be the only safe place a child can sleep, but it does not mean they are lazy or do not care, even if they can not vocalize why they are so tired. Maybe like me they know that there would be severe punishment if they spoke up.
- A child that is overly withdrawn, does not have friends, or is the ‘quiet one’ who is not disturbing the class. While every teacher may want a few kids who don’t disturb the class with rising class sizes, every child wants to have a few friends and the fact that the child will not socialize, play or have the ability to make any friends may be an indicator that other things are going on that the youth/child does not have the ability to process. In my case, I was not allowed to have friends and I knew that if someone found out about what was going on – my life could be in danger as well as theirs.
- A child that simply can’t learn, especially if that has suddenly changed. While their are many children/youth with marked learning/health issues. Some youths issues are a result of problems at home, trauma, abuse and even exploitation. In my case, I was labeled with learning problems with further isolated me – but the real issue was my exploitation. I was a young person trying to survive a situation that no person should ever have to. As a result, I was able to study, read the book over vacation, or get that project done at home. I wasn’t able to ask for help but these label was further used against me in days to come. I just didn’t have the words I needed to communicate.
- One parent or boyfriend that seems overly interested, invested or manipulative in the student’s situation. In my case I was never given the opportunity to speak for myself. I learned early on to look down, don’t speak, stand in the back and hope no one suspects anything. Yes, it may just be a loving parent but in some cases that parent may be manipulative, and controlling everything in that youth’s life. Oftentimes parents who are exploitative are charming, loved by most, and pillars in the community. Ask a few questions and if it feels wrong – by all means report it.