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Inside Fla.’s K-5 Curriculum That Teaches Young Children How to Prevent Sex Trafficking

Children at Coral Sunset Elementary School in Boca Raton, Fla. work with materials from the Stay KidSafe! program. (KidSafe Foundation)

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In today’s environment, nothing is more important than student safety and the well-being of children. It was a must before COVID, and it is more imperative now. In recent years, a movement has begun throughout the United States to mandate K-12 child sexual abuse prevention education. To date, 27 states have done so and another eight allow or recommend this kind of instruction 

In September 2019, Florida took an enhanced approach, becoming the first state in the nation to require Child Trafficking Prevention Education to all K-12 students. This is a powerful rule which recognizes the higher incidence of human trafficking in Florida (our state ranks third in the nation for reports of trafficking, behind Nevada and Mississippi) but also the close association between trafficking and histories of child sexual abuse among trafficking victims.

Sex trafficking often surfaces wherever large groups of people congregate in high-population areas that also serve as hubs for international travel. One such venue is Los Angeles, California, the site of Sunday’s Super Bowl. Law enforcement authorities have conducted sting operations in conjunction with several past Super Bowls, though the association between Super Bowls and elevated sex-trafficking has been questioned

What is undisputed is that sex trafficking destroys lives and its victims are much more likely to have histories of child sexual abuse. The statistics bear out that crisis: 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 13 boys will be sexually exploited by the age of 18 and 70 to 90 percent of children who end up being sex trafficked have been victims of prior sexual abuse as younger children. But we can do something: nationwide, mandatory, school-based, personal safety education would reach millions of students, both preventing child sexual abuse and stopping trafficking before it starts. 

The KidSafe Foundation focuses on kindergarten through fifth grade personal safety education. So, what is child sexual abuse education and exploitation prevention education for this population? First, it is not sex education. These two endeavors (sexual abuse prevention, sex education) are often confused. In the Stay KidSafe! program we are not teaching about puberty, reproduction, and safe sex. We are teaching children that as individuals they are valued, that they have the right to be safe from harm. They learn that trusted adults exist — a carefully chosen teacher, grandparent, mentor or older sibling — to whom they can turn for help, and when and how to do so. These are protective skills, useful for a lifetime.

For many people, including adults, the words child sexual abuse and child exploitation are frightening. This is understandable. It is the unthinkable — the most heinous crime against our children. However, teaching personal safety to children need not be scary. In fact, personal safety education is most effective when taught from a place of empowerment, not fear.

When reviewing curricula for children on the topics of sexual abuse prevention and child trafficking prevention, it is imperative to seek programs that engage children on their level, and focus on skill-building, self-reliance and empowerment. The Stay KidSafe! K-5 program does not use the words abuse, sexual, grooming or trafficking. These words are for grown-ups. Children can, though, certainly learn that there are healthy body boundaries, the difference between a safe touch and an unsafe touch and how to access help from a trusted grown-up.

Stay KidSafe! is available free for all qualified educators, both in the state of Florida and throughout the nation. Everything required to teach the lessons is available on the foundation’s platform. Designed for the classroom teacher or school counselor, the program typically finds a home within a school’s social-emotional learning curriculum. Each new skill is introduced by 3D animation. Most importantly, both the students and facilitators find the lessons engaging and fun. Each lesson provides children an opportunity to use their safety voice — an inner voice that helps them make safe, smart choices and an assertive outer voice that keeps them and their friends safe — and discuss personal safety in an age-appropriate way via meaningful, non-frightening scenarios.

The program fosters a common culture of safety within each child’s school, classroom and home. This is key. Personal safety skills are taught and practiced repeatedly, year after year, with each new skill building on the last. That language becomes a part of each child’s vernacular, making it easier for them to communicate with adults about their everyday safety, both in person and online.

Children are our most valuable and vulnerable population. According to the CDC, child sexual abuse constitutes a widespread public health crisis in our country. Broad primary prevention is needed to combat this crisis. The Stay KidSafe! program does this by building skills of resilience. When children learn protective skills, self-awareness and communication, and are given the time and guidance to practice problem-solving using these skills, we are building their resilience — their ability to manage challenges they face and access help when needed.

While the program addresses child sexual abuse and exploitation for elementary-age, the education and skills provided get middle school students ready to learn about sex trafficking and how to prevent it. Educating adults as well as children is central to making our society safer for all children, so the foundation provides similar education and skills to parents and educators. This includes the knowledge, awareness and tools to recognize, respond to and report sexual abuse and trafficking, such as state and local guidelines and mandates pertaining to known instances of sexual abuse and trafficking.

The more we are all knowledgeable about how offenders and traffickers operate in our communities, the better we can recognize and prevent their harmful behaviors and protect our children. We encourage everyone to join the nationwide movement to end child sexual abuse and exploitation.

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