January is National Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Human trafficking is a massive, heartbreaking problem both around the world and in the United States. A 2017 research study surveyed the largest-ever combined sample of homeless youth in the U.S. and Canada and found that one-fifth of them were victims of human trafficking.
Traffickers target vulnerable youth — they prey on the ones without parents, guardians, or caring adults to notice they’re missing. This is why homeless youth are highly susceptible to trafficking. Though Fairfax County feels like an affluent area, we actually have an especially high rate of human trafficking — local police report seeing trafficking at every high school in Northern Virginia.
We can all agree on one thing: no young person should EVER be exploited, have to fear exploitation, or be forced to make desperate choices to escape or avoid exploitation. Second Story is working to create a community where young people are safe and have the freedom to dream about their hopes and futures — not fear for their well being (learn more about the specifics here). Since homelessness places young people at much higher risk to be trafficked, trafficking prevention is an important part of our work. This January, as we focus on human trafficking prevention, here are a few ways you can help.
1. Learn the signs: Young people are often targeted for trafficking by predators, especially gangs like MS-13. Vulnerable youth are more susceptible to trafficking because of a lack of guidance or supervision. A young person whose parent or guardian is waiting on them for dinner will pick up on unusual behavior or even absence, whereas a homeless young person doesn’t have anyone to notice they’re missing. Position yourself as an advocate for at-risk young people by knowing what warning signs to look for.
2. Volunteer at the teen shelter: Second Story for Teens in Crisis shelters trafficked youth every year, but we’re also working hard to intervene before a trafficker even enters the picture. Research reports that within 48 hours of running away from home two in every three young people will be approached by an exploiter. By staying at the teen shelter, receiving services, and having access to individual and family counseling, young people are not only receiving safe shelter but also transformational opportunities and resources. Cooking meals for teen shelter residents or volunteering to answer phones gives counselors more opportunities to engage with young people and allows us to continue to serve more youth in crisis.
3. Give to Second Story: Trafficking prevention is prioritized in each of Second Story’s programs — by keeping youth safe we remove the factor of vulnerability, the key to a young person’s risk for trafficking. Second Story in the Community works specifically with gang prevention and keeping young people off the streets after school and Second Story for Homeless Youth and Second Story for Young Mothers provide long term housing, pulling young people out of desperate situations that may lead to trafficking, such as exchanging sex for shelter.
4. Share Second Story’s hotline: Did you know that Second Story operates a 24/7 hotline and text line? Young people can call 1-800-SAY-TEEN or text TEENHELP to 855-11 if they need help or wish to speak with a live counselor. A young person should never have to feel targeted or unsafe. Sharing is as easy as clicking the social sharing buttons at the top of this article — post to Facebook or Twitter or email to a friend.
5. Attend an Open Door Information Session to learn more about how Second Story is helping keep young people safe from trafficking: Each month Second Story opens the doors of our teen shelter so that people like you can learn more about our programs, how we’re helping keep young people safe, and how we’re reducing risk and vulnerability to prevent trafficking in our community.