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Prevent, identify, and respond to child exploitation.

Child exploitation can take many forms and affect youth of any age, race, geographic location, or socioeconomic status. Victimization can take place directly on school grounds as well as through online or social media platforms, which can be sites for predatory behaviors and interactions with malicious actors who target children and adolescents (e.g., adults seeking to sexually exploit children, to financially extort them through the threat or actual distribution of intimate images), and victimized students may suffer physical, mental, and emotional trauma.

Schools are uniquely positioned to support students facing exploitation. Because of the regular interaction between educators and students, school personnel can help identify and report suspected cases of trafficking and exploitation and connect affected students to critical services.

Understanding the factors that make students vulnerable to exploitation, such as adverse childhood experiences, history of trauma, housing instability/homelessness, or lack of supportive adult figures, and recognizing the warning signs is the first step in identifying potential victims. Signs or indicators may include unexplained absences from school, abruptly disconnecting from family or friends, or significant changes in behaviors including online activity, and if observed can be an opportunity to ask more questions or help students get the support they need.

School leaders can provide training and resources on the risk factors and indicators of child exploitation so that teachers and school staff can recognize potential cases, as well as offer age-appropriate safety education programs for students and engage with parents to raise awareness of the issue. School districts should also establish and articulate clearly defined policies, protocols, and procedures, supported by collaboration with relevant local community and law enforcement partners, for school personnel to follow if cases of child exploitation are suspected or disclosed.

To counteract risk factors, identifying and building protective factors and a safe and supportive school community can help to prevent youth from exploitative and trafficking situations. Protective factors can include encouraging youth to seek help, identifying resources to meet student needs, and offering ongoing education about healthy relationships, intimate partner violence, and child sex abuse. Schools should also put in place campus security measures and screen visitors to school grounds and events. As well, providing children, teens, parents, and teachers with information regarding the potential dangers of online environments and how to stay safe online can help prevent many instances of child exploitation.

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Access additional resources below to learn more about child exploitation and related best practices. Use the filters to sort resources based on subtopic and/or preparedness action.

Program
Cybersecurity
Safe Online Surfing

Department of Justice

This educational program helps children learn about online safety and digital citizenship. It offers interactive games that cover topics such as cyberbullying, online threats, and digital etiquette.
Guidance
Child Exploitation
How to Talk to Youth about Human Trafficking: A Guide for Youth Caretakers and Individuals Working with Youth

Department of Homeland Security, 2022

This guide can be used by any adult who is a caretaker of a youth or individuals who work with youth through formal or informal programming. It includes information about what human trafficking is, how to recognize it among youth, tips for talking to youth about general exploitation, information about building life skills that may help prevent youth from being trafficked, and reporting options if you suspect a youth is affected by human trafficking or being exploited.

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