Protecting Our Children from Sex Trafficking

Sex trafficking of youth has been escalating over the past decade and is prevalent in all major California cities. Sexual and labor exploitation are problems that touch our schools, as victims can be students or their family members. Recruiters can be people they know, relatives or people they meet online. Youth can also be trafficked while attending school and recruitment can happen on campus, making this a critical school safety issue.

Youth from the foster care systems and those who are fleeing abuse are at the greatest risk of commercial sexual exploitation, but young people of any background can meet a sex trafficker online, on a bus or at the mall. The trauma can be so great that many may not identify themselves as victims or ask for help.

Human trafficking education is now a required component of the health education framework for California public schools. The Human Trafficking Prevention Education and Training Act of 2018 mandate specifies that human trafficking education is provided at least once in middle and at least once in high school. But it is equally important to discuss this issue at home.

Technology Enables Sex Trafficking

Traffickers can use social media and gaming sites to recruit unsuspecting youth. Predators can learn about our kids through their social feeds then manipulate them through fake profiles. Pedophiles and sex buyers have their own social media site in the dark web to share photos and tips on how to go undetected when buying children for sex.

Apps and sites like KIK, Instagram and Snapchat and video games like Fortnite make it easy for predators to target youth while hiding behind a wall of anonymity. By sharing and chatting with strangers, youth can come in contact with the wrong person who says just the right thing to ensnare them. Teen Safe publishes a blacklist of potentially problematic apps that can put children in danger.

What Parents Can Do…

Ask “What if” Questions

Role playing is a powerful way to teach kids how to handle difficult situations.  Discuss potential situations that could occur in different scenarios like sports practice, walking to a friend’s house, outdoor festivals, Halloween, the movie theater, etc. These “what would you do” conversations can take place at the dinner table or on the drive to school, and may help ease apprehension about the topic.

Ask questions like:

  • “What would you do if a good-looking older guy came up to you and said he thought you were pretty enough to be a model? Would you give him your phone number?”
  • “Is it okay for a stranger to take pictures of you?”
  • “Do you know anyone at school that has an older boyfriend?”
  • “Have any of your friends ever talked about getting paid to go on dates?”
  • “Has anyone ever sent you a picture that made you feel uncomfortable?”
  • “What would you do if someone sent you an inappropriate picture or asked you for one?

The conversation can also continue with a talk about internet safety and “stranger danger”.

Know the Signs

Traffickers often pose as friends or boyfriends and groom their victims prior to commercially sexually exploiting them. By informing children about the commonly tactics used by traffickers to recruit victims, such as dating “Romeo pimps”, peer recruiting and fake modeling or acting jobs, we can help reduce their vulnerability.

Know your Child’s Friends and Whereabouts

Install a safety app on your phones. There are many safety apps available for IOS and Android phones. Here are some apps to consider.

Educate Yourself

Know How to Respond

What Schools Can Do…

  1. Trauma-informed training on commercial sexual exploitation of children for school staff
  2. Referral protocols for school staff
  3. Human trafficking education for students and supports groups for high-risk youth
  4. Abuse education for elementary schools
  5. Family information nights
  6. Posters and awareness campaigns to encourage youth to seek help

Learn more from the U.S. Department of Education: Human Trafficking in America’s Schools

Sex Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation: Training Tool for School Administrators

 

 

 

Best Practices for Handling Phishing and Ransomware

Both email-phishing scams and crypto ransomware/malware are increasingly common and can have devastating impacts on businesses and non-profit associations of all sizes. As a non-profit association, PTA can be vulnerable to these types of cyber crimes at all levels and, in fact, we have heard reports of email-phishing scams happening to local leaders.

Email-phishing scams are typically fraudulent email messages appearing to come from legitimate enterprises (e.g., your PTA treasurer or president, your Internet service provider, your bank). These messages usually direct you to a spoofed website or otherwise get you to divulge private information such as bank account information or account passwords. The perpetrators then use this private information to commit identity theft or trick you to wire money.

Ransomware/malware is a virus that installs covertly on the victim’s computer system and encrypts the victim’s files, making them inaccessible, and demands a ransom payment to decrypt them. Often malware is triggered by downloading files or clicking links from untrustworthy sources which appear to be legitimate.

If you get an email from a fellow PTA officer asking to wire funds, do not send money.

Establish communication “backchannels” such as text message or phone calls to verify the authenticity of the request. Additionally, remember to keep your personal and PTA computer systems and firewalls up-to-date to minimize the potential for viruses to inflect your system with malware.

Additional Resources:

Talking to Children About School and Community Shootings

Just like adults, children and teenagers are better able to cope with upsetting news when they understand more about an event and how it might impact them. Often what children and teens need the most is to have someone they trust listen to their questions and concerns, accept their feelings, and be there for them.

Tips from the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement on how to talk to your child:

  • Don’t worry about knowing the perfect thing to say
  • Listen to your child’s thoughts and concerns
  • Answer their questions with simple direct and honest responses. Remember that answers and reassurance should be at the level of the child’s understanding
  • Provide appropriate reassurance and support
  • Know when to seek outside help such as when your child continues to be upset for several days or seems unable to recover from their fears or is having trouble in school or home or with their friends.

National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement flier: Talking to Children About Terrorist Attacks and School and Community Shootings in the News

 

Impact of Heat on Student Health and Performance

It may technically be autumn, but many communities in California are still experiencing a heatwave, and the number and severity of extreme heat events is increasing. Poorly maintained and older HVAC systems in schools may not be able to respond to higher outdoor temperatures, putting our kid’s health and school performance at risk.

Children are more sensitive to the effects of heat, according to a bulletin from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Children have:

  • Higher physical activity levels
  • Higher core body temperatures
  • Higher metabolic rates
  • Larger surface to body mass ratings

These factors can increase a child’s chance of experiencing heat stress. High temperatures and humidity can have adverse impacts on physical education by triggering coughs and asthma. Heat impacts cognitive function including reaction time, information processing, memory and reasoning, effecting a child’s performance in school.

Cooling the air during extreme heat events can be limited by aging infrastructure and high energy bills on tight school budgets!  Here are some other things schools can do to reduce indoor temperatures:

  • Use shades to block direct sunlight from heating indoor spaces.
  • Reduce indoor heat sources such as artificial lighting and machinery.
  • Limit outdoor activity during peak temperatures.
  • Provide clean drinking water to keep students hydrated during extreme heat events
  • Build a green roof or paint the roofs white to reduce thermal gain.
  • Use plants along south facing windows to provide shade and reduce direct sunlight.
  • Keep air vents clear of blockage and maintain HVAC systems to reduce energy usage.
  • Use cool pavement in your school parking lot to reflect more solar energy.

EPA Bulletin: How Temperature Impacts Students

Is Your Child’s School Drinking Water Safe?

A new law that went into effect in California in January requires that schools have their drinking water tested for lead contamination by July of 2019. Schools built after 2010, private schools and those already required to test their drinking water are exempt.

Lead poses a health risk for children and vulnerable adults such as pregnant women, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) even low levels of lead in the blood have been shown to affect cognitive abilities, the ability to pay attention, and academic achievement.

The new law requires schools to test up to five water sources, not a thorough examination when lead contamination can vary widely from water fixture to water fixture. Water outlets with lead levels over 15 parts per billion must be shut down or repaired. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there is no safe level of exposure to lead.

For information on how your school can request free lead testing, please see this flier. Requests must be received before November 1, 2019.

Flier: How to request Free Lead testing in your K-12 school

EdSource Flier: Lead in California School Water: What You Need To Know

Interactive Map: Sampling Results for Schools Tested for Lead

EdSource Special Report: Tainted Taps: Lead Puts California Students at Risk