When we talk about protecting our children and teenagers from human trafficking, what do you think is most important? Is it about teaching our kids the behaviors of traffickers? Or maybe it’s providing the right safety tips for social media? We spoke with our newest Youth Specialist, Au’Vonnie Alexander, to find out what it takes to train kids to stay safe from traffickers and how you can help!
1. Create Safety
At the beginning of each program, I tell the kids, “This program is for you. You can walk out, cry, be angry, and say anything you need to.” We constantly reiterate this throughout our conversations. Our prevention program is not just about sharing information with youth; it’s about helping them reconnect with themselves and their peers. Traffickers recruit on vulnerabilities such as loneliness and isolation. By giving these kids a space that’s theirs, free of rules and rigidity, by offering them a space to be their raw selves and to talk about whatever they need, we are giving them back the power to control their future.
It’s been amazing to me to see how eager students are to connect. They are experiencing so many difficult things. Their families, friendships, romantic relationships, and their entire lives are full of complicated scenarios. This time is dedicated to them, to ask questions and to be honest about what they are going through. By doing this, we see so many students reach out for help. After our program the other day, I had a middle school girl talk to me about her boyfriend. She knew it was not a healthy situation, but did not have the language to describe it. After the program she was able to articulate why the relationship was unhealthy and make a choice for herself. It’s through safety that trust is built, so we can prevent these kids from ever being exploited in the first place.
2. Provide Meaningful Content
When I start talking to these kids at 8:30 in the morning, they are tired and dazed. But with each passing minute, I see their faces change and their ears perk up as what we talk about percolates into their minds. At the beginning of our workshops, we show videos about healthy versus unhealthy relationships, what a normal student job looks like vs a trafficking situation, and sexting. To make it interactive, we play a game called “Guess the Trafficker”, which is geared towards changing the stereotypes of who a trafficker can be and what they can look like. They hear the real stories about a grandmother, cheerleader, and parent who are convicted traffickers. This expands the kids minds to think outside of the box. All these pieces fit together to create a conversation that gets beneath the surface and addresses the vulnerabilities in their lives.
Sometimes we discuss difficult topics throughout our program, but the kids are able to handle it; they are eager for these conversations and eager to learn and discuss their thoughts on these issues. Many of these teens have so many complicated questions bottled up inside, and by creating an open environment, it helps them open up and ask these questions. By creating this safe environment of learning and dialogue, we are also able to address their vulnerabilities directly. Most of the time, kids can and will find answers to their questions online – yet often, these online forums are where they can be most susceptible to manipulation and trafficking. By providing meaningful, relevant content in our program, we are able to facilitate these life saving conversations within a community that cares.
“No one talks to us like we are regular people – they talk to us like they are above us. But in your program I really felt like you cared.” Children and youth can detect insincerity; and they can realize when they are being spoken to in a manner intended to control them. The driving force behind UAHT’s prevention program is to create authenticity: the ability to relate and connect with the kids on their level. Again, this program is for them, not about us. We offer them the opportunity to be heard, to trust, and to feel connected, which results in the absolutely critical difference between a disclosure – or a student keeping their victimization hidden.
In 2018, we have trained 5,287 youth how to protect themselves from traffickers. When you support our youth programs, you are directly responsible for the freedom and safety of youth here in Houston. You are making a difference. How can you continue to help? We are raising $5,287 to honor the youth who have worked through our prevention program. By honoring them with a gift, you can ensure that even more youth in Houston are equipped with the power to avoid exploitation.
Did we mention? When you give, you win! Each gift made in honor of Giving Tuesday will be entered to win a pair of flights on Southwest Airlines! Make your gift TODAY!