Written by: Katie Linn | Previous Executive Director of Exploit No More
The more knowledge that is uncovered about domestic minor sex trafficking, the more people question how we can prevent these young girls from being victimized and trafficked in the first place. While some at-risk youth may already have knowledge of trafficking, as they may have seen it happen to their family or friends, others have never heard of sex trafficking. Therefore, it is crucial to build relationships with youth – and specifically girls – in order to build confidence and self-esteem, as well as to share about the issue that we face in our own cities and communities. Youth prevention work is a key component to the fight against sex trafficking.
A multi-week youth prevention program typically takes place within a small group of at-risk girls ages 12 to 18 years old. While individual youth prevention programs and topics can be created and discussed, there are nationally recognized programs, including My Life My Choice, in which the curriculum and information is provided and tested, proven to increase knowledge and reduce the chances of exploitation. These curriculum's are most often used to reach girls who are already at a higher risk of sexual exploitation or who have already experienced exploitation. Higher risk factors of exploitation include those who have experienced previous abuse and neglect, who come from families filled with violence and addiction, or those who live in known areas targeted by pimps.
Youth prevention programs can last for various amount of times, however smaller groups typically last a number of weeks in order to relay further information and to form relationships among the girls and leaders. For at-risk youth, it is important that through the program there is a change in the attitudes toward commercial sexual exploitation and prostitution, a greater knowledge of the realities of pimps and trafficking, and an empowerment of skills to identify and resist recruitment or to receive resources to exit the life if they are already in it.
While some youth prevention presentations can be done by those without specific training, more specified curriculums are run by a licensed clinician or a service provider with training in leading groups. Often times, there are also survivors of trafficking involved within the group, sharing their own personal story and providing a safe place for girls to open up about their own experiences while recognizing that they do not need to be ashamed of their victimization.
Some of the topics that are covered within a course include understanding and recognizing recruitment tactics, reducing the risk of exploitation, recognizing the link between substance abuse and exploitation, developing self esteem, hearing stories from survivors, and finding help if a girl has already been victimized or exploited.