With Written Contribution from Quin’tara Spencer.
Contrary to some misconceptions, American children can be victims of sex trafficking. These children are not only from at-risk, vulnerable populations, such as runaways, children of broken homes, or foster children: victims can be of any socioeconomic background, from stable families and affluent communities.
Social media has become a vital tool for traffickers, allowing them to expand their recruitment methods. Through the internet, a trafficker can pull children away from their families by enticing them with romance, career prospects, or psychological manipulation over snapchat, twitter and facebook – among many other social media platforms . According to a survivor study by THORN, 55% of domestic minor victims of trafficking met their trafficker online – through apps and websites.
How does United Against Human Trafficking combat domestic minor exploitation and sex trafficking ? Prevention and education are critical components. Quin’tara Spencer, Coordinator for Youth Programs, has helped reach further into Houston area school districts and service organizations, to give presentations on what grooming and recruitment into exploitation looks like – with the goal of preventing their victimization from ever happening.
UAHT Outreach Programs provides awareness of both sex and labor trafficking by:
- Raising awareness of what constitutes as human trafficking and exploitation.
- Learn how to recognize recruitment tactics and understand vulnerabilities.
- Challenge harmful stereotypes and societal attitudes.
- Identify healthy support systems and unhealthy, manipulative relationships.
- Develop skills to safely navigate potential and existing exploitative situations.
- Learn how to access community resources when situations occur that increase their vulnerability, or help currently victimized youth escape that situation.
One example of UAHT’s expansion is connecting with and going into new schools. For the month of January, UAHT highlights North Houston Early College High School (NHECHS). Principle Brian Gaston and Physical Education teacher Kenneth Dorsey gathered 50 students to conduct a Red Sand Project to help bring awareness to the school and the surrounding around areas. UAHT has created partnerships to work in multiple school districts, including HISD, PISD, AISD, CISD, KISD, and CFISD.
UAHT’s Youth Program also creates opportunities for high school students to help with our Direct Outreach work: on February 16 2018, Conroe ISD High School Conference brought together students from Caney Creek, Conroe High, Tomball, to participate in a service learning project. These students packaged personal hygiene kits, that UAHT hands out to at-risk populations in street outreach sessions.
UAHT also works with partner organizations, including Real Talk Program, Change Happens, and Parks Youth Ranch. These programs target both vulnerable youth and young adults, implementing prevention and awareness workshops, while also handing out hygiene kits containing information about what exploitation and victimization looks like. In conducting these direct outreach sessions, we hope to help current victims of human trafficking, while also educating these populations so that they recognize the signs of trafficking, and know how to avoid those situation of exploitation.
2017 was a year of growth for UAHT’s Youth Programs: In 2016, UAHT reached 1138 youth in the Houston Area. In 2017, we were able to grow that number to 1,622, and hope to continue increasing the amount of Youth through our Youth Outreach. Our Strategic Plan Goals include:
- Continuing to increase the youth programs to reach more schools, by developing and fostering partnerships in 2018.
- Developing partnerships in both the child welfare and juvenile justice system, so that we can identify any potential or current victims of exploitation and victimization.
- Expand the Real talk program to multiple at-risk populations, in more areas of Houston.
With continued support, we are able to grow our reach among our City’s youth, to prevent human trafficking from ever happening by empowering them with knowledge. We also aim to be able to identify victims of human trafficking ; in 2017, our Programs identified 13 victims through our Outreach efforts, some of these youth.
Your support is critical in helping us continue these Youth Outreach efforts!