Does HealthSmart address human trafficking?

The Middle School Violence & Injury Prevention lesson on sexual abuse includes some information about this topic, and the High School Violence & Injury Prevention unit has a separate lesson on sexual exploitation.

The middle school lesson defines trafficking as a form of abuse, and one of the scenarios students discuss presents a situation in which a student’s friend is being drawn into a trafficking-type situation. But the lesson doesn’t go into particulars of human trafficking. Educators might need to add some information to the lesson, such as being sure to list trafficking hotlines among the resources discussed at the end of the lesson, to fully meet legislative mandates or state standards around this subject at the middle school level.

At the high school level, there is a separate lesson dealing specifically with sexual exploitation that provides information about trafficking. However, here, too, the educator might want to supplement discussion to be sure the particular points required by legislation or district policies are being covered (e.g., How did the exploiter try to win Lee’s trust? What needs was Riley’s exploiter trying to fill? How was Tallulah targeted? What might have happened if she had gone with the man?). Resources specific to trafficking are shared at the end of that lesson, and can also be included at the end of the next lesson, which focuses on sexual abuse.

In including information about trafficking in HealthSmart, we chose to cover situations that a larger percentage of students might encounter in the scenarios at both upper grade levels. As a result, the lesson focus is more on understanding that trafficking exists and recognizing early warning signs. The high school lesson also defines and includes examples of peer-to-peer exploitation, because an ETR research study found this to be an issue for a surprising number of youth.

An exploration of commercial sex trafficking is really outside of the scope of the program, because the primary goal of HealthSmart is always to empower the practice of healthy behaviors and address the Healthy Behavior Outcomes (HBOs) defined by the CDC. Students can’t do anything about commercial sex trafficking, but they can understand what trafficking is, recognize warning signs, and access resources for help for themselves or a friend if they see those warning signs. That’s the content that’s going to help them “Get help to stop being subjected to violence or physical abuse” (the HBO). Legislation intended to address social problems and health issues doesn’t usually approach it from that behavior standpoint, so is often written around required content to include rather than the functional knowledge and skills that will help youth protect themselves.