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How to Talk to Youth About Human Trafficking

Youth can be vulnerable to human trafficking, especially when certain risk factors are present, like child maltreatment, substance use, mental health issues, gang affiliation, or having run away from home. Once they become trafficked, they then become at risk for substance abuse, sex abuse, health problems, and a host of other issues.

In order to prevent children and teens from becoming caught up in this cycle, it’s important for professionals who work with youth to understand how to communicate with them about the warning signs and dangers of human trafficking.

This article offers a few helpful pointers, but the best strategy you can take if you think you may need to talk to youth about human trafficking is to get training from a professional.

The Ohio Children’s Trust Fund, as a member of the Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force recommends that educators and others who work with children and teens take this free online training.

Considerations When Presenting to Youth

Human trafficking can be a difficult subject matter, especially for children and teens. When giving group presentations, some helpful tips to follow include:

  • Consider the Audience — Different age groups will be at different stages of cognitive and emotional development. Be aware of your audience, where they are in their development, and how this may affect their ability to learn the material and be able to communicate about difficult, mature subjects. For younger children, use of graphics and stories to teach about setting boundaries with their bodies may be more engaging, while teens who are generally skeptical of adults may need to be won over and allowed to share their viewpoints.
  • Be Interactive — When material is presented in a way that’s interactive with activities, children will be more engaged than with a lecture format.
  • Use Conversational Language — Talk to them in clear language that is appropriate for their age and vocabulary level; don’t be academic.
  • Be Empathetic — They’re experiencing struggles that are no less real because they’re adolescents. Give them a safe space to talk about their problems and concerns and let them feel heard.

Talking to Victims

If your role as a professional calls upon you to work with youth victims of human trafficking, those conversations can be especially challenging to navigate. This approach is recommended when talking to a victim.

  • Reflect back to the person with compassion what you heard them say. This could include phrases like, “I can see you’re upset. I hear you saying that you feel disrespected by how they approached you to discuss this matter.” 
  • Honor their courage for surviving and sharing. An example of this could include, “Thank you for sharing your feelings with me. I know it can be difficult to talk about something that is painful.” 
  • Connect them with safety, supports, and what they would like the future to look like. You could ask something like, “I’m wondering if there is something I can do to help you feel safe right now?”

Some more tips or steps to follow include:

  • Let them know you believe them.
  • Disclose that you may need to tell other people or organizations about abuse (e.g., police or child protective services).
  • Ask if they feel safe.
  • Let them know that people care about them and that the abuse is not their fault. Let them know that telling someone what happened to them doesn’t make them weak.