OTIP Director Katherine Chon Speaks at Webinar on Human Trafficking and Online Safety
The U.S. Department of Education hosted a webinar, "Human Trafficking: Online Safety," part of a series of webinars that address the growing response of America’s schools to child trafficking. This webinar provided administrators, teachers, specialized instructional support personnel, parents, caregivers, and students with trauma-informed and survivor-centered strategies for preventing human trafficking and exploitation online.
Katherine Chon, Director of the Office on Trafficking in Persons, delivered the following prepared introductory remarks:
Thank you, Shauna. Good afternoon, everyone. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be here with you all today. I want to thank Deputy Assistant Secretary Ruth Ryder and her team for hosting this webinar series.
I also want to thank all of you who are joining us. Whether this is your first engagement with this issue or you’re an expert in the field, you are a critical part of our Nation’s efforts to combat human trafficking and we welcome you as partners in this work.
Office on Trafficking in Persons and Prevention
Human trafficking, either in the form of compelled labor or commercial sexual exploitation, is a crime and public health issue that affects individuals, families, and communities across the United States.
Within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Office on Trafficking in Persons (OTIP) assists survivors of human trafficking and works to prevent human trafficking before it occurs, working closely with the CDC Division of Violence Prevention and other partners.
Human Trafficking Prevention
There is conclusive evidence that multiple types of violence often co-occur, and individuals who experience one form of violence are at much greater risk of experiencing other forms of violence. This research aligns with literature that documents the polyvictimization experienced by survivors of human trafficking.
To achieve long-term change, we must increase our focus on what is happening “upstream” prior to victimization or perpetration. It is imperative to create opportunities for children to receive information and develop skills that can help reduce the likelihood they will experience human trafficking and other forms of violence. It is also essential to help caregivers, families, communities, schools, and organizations understand how to foster safe and supportive environments that will help children thrive.
The National Advisory Committee on the Sex Trafficking of Children and Youth in the United States has provided preliminary recommendations to states to strengthen anti-trafficking efforts, including engagement of educators and schools. These recommendations are available on our website.
Online Exploitation Overview and Statistics
A focus on primary prevention dictates that we broaden our perspective and consider the causal factors and pathways that lead to human trafficking, including the online grooming, recruitment, and sexual exploitation of children and youth.
Online sexual exploitation can include human trafficking, but also includes harassment, exchange of or solicitation for child sexual abuse material (either photos or videos), livestreaming abuse, online enticement, and sextortion. These additional forms of violence are often precursors to human trafficking victimization. Experiencing such trauma increases a young person's vulnerability to exploitation, and many traffickers use these methods to groom and recruit children and youth.
Technology can help young people access important information, reach out for help, and meet their basic need for human connection. Yet it can also serve as a portal for traffickers and other individuals seeking to target, recruit, and groom a child for human trafficking and other forms of abuse.
While this type of exploitation occurs across all ages, genders, races, and ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, studies show that human trafficking disproportionately impacts communities of color.
Risk factors include:
- History of abuse and neglect
- Social disconnection
- Experience of social stigma and exclusion
- Housing and economic instability
As a result of a surge in consumer access to technology in recent years, we have seen a significant increase in cases involving the online exploitation of children and youth. Over the last ten years, the Department of Justice has reported a 160 percent increase in cases involving the production of child sexual abuse material. Additionally, 16.8 million CyberTips regarding suspected child sexual abuse material offenses were submitted to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children last year.
Impacts of COVID-19
In addition to increases in technology access, disruption of school and other regular activities, decrease in socialization, housing and economic instability, and increased social disconnection have increased vulnerability for exploitation for many children and youth.
- Data available from the first month of response to COVID-19 indicates increasing concerns of online exploitation.
- There was nearly a threefold increase in the number of CyberTips received by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (from under 300,000 in mid-March to more than 1.1 million in mid-April).
- The number of crisis trafficking situations reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline increased by more than 40 percent.
Opportunities for Educators
As educators and professionals working within schools, your role in the lives of your students often extends beyond academic instruction. You are often among the first to recognize changes in emotional well-being, behavior, or academic performance, which may indicate a significant life change and a need for additional support or intervention.
For some children and youth, you may be the only adult they trust for accurate information or support. As a result, you may be in an optimal position to build up protective factors that can reduce a student’s risk for human trafficking. These factors can include normalizing conversations about online safety and other topics, helping students build skills to identify and respond to high-risk situations, working to keep them engaged in school, and encouraging connection with healthy adults and peers.
As with other forms of abuse and neglect, if you suspect human trafficking, you should follow your state’s mandatory reporting guidelines. If you need additional support or assistance, you can contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
At OTIP, we are committed to providing resources that will assist you in your efforts to safeguard students. To this end, we launched the SOAR for School-Based Professionals training module, which is designed to equip participants with a better understanding of human trafficking and its impact on youth.
We recently published a new funding opportunity announcement for the Human Trafficking Youth Prevention Education Demonstration Program. This program will fund local education agencies who will work with a nonprofit or NGO to develop and implement programs that provide skills-based human trafficking training and education for school staff and students. Applications are due on July 31.
Finally, any school or community group can download free public awareness materials on human trafficking as part of the HHS Look Beneath the Surface Campaign, including resources for children and youth.
Preventing child trafficking and exploitation is an effort that will require engagement from all of us. Thank you again for your participation, and for all you do to safeguard children and youth.
Access the slides, recording, and transcript of the webinar, as well as related online safety resources.