Teens Against Trafficking
For six years, Executive Director Nita Belles, has been invited to speak in health classes in Central Oregon. She says, “when I leave a school after training a classroom full of students, it feels so good to know those faces I’ve seen are not going to be faces I see at 3am after a hotel raid. They and many of those they know will be protected from being trapped in human trafficking.”
Health teachers have enthusiastically supported IOB’s prevention education and have asked Executive Director Nita Belles to return year after year. They have also championed the benefits of the instruction to the administration. Along with Belles’ efforts, this has resulted in school districts across Central Oregon that are eager to implement training with IOB. With doors opening for this offering, it is a critical time to formalize and expand the program.
In Our Backyard has been told by survivors of human trafficking that Central Oregon is a sweet spot for recruiting because of our rural setting and the fact that citizens are naive to the dangers of human trafficking. Victims of human trafficking are often denied the basic human rights of food, safety, shelter, and education. They are abused, controlled, and forced to live and work in deplorable conditions. The emotional, physical, and mental damage that they experience is so deep that survivors suffer for a lifetime in the aftermath of the trauma, even after they are recovered.
Youth, aged 12-18 are particularly vulnerable to enslavement by traffickers. The average age of entry into forced sexual exploitation is estimated to be 12-14 for girls, 11-13 for boys. A 2013 Portland State University study analyzed data from documented child sexual exploitation cases. The average age victims were referred for services was 15.5 and the youngest was only eight.¹ One out of every seven of the nearly 25,000 runaway children reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in 2017 were likely sex trafficking victims.² Of the 7,621 cases of human trafficking in the U.S. (76 cases in Oregon) reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline in 2016, 32% involved minors.³ The actual number of victims is suspected to be much higher. Due to the secrecy surrounding this crime and the threats and lies traffickers use to control their victims, far too many cases remain undetected.
Teens Against Trafficking implements an in-depth curriculum, teacher and counselor training, and parent support through middle and high schools in Central Oregon, as well as drop-in centers and juvenile justice. The curriculum will address topics of internet safety, pornography, grooming tactics that traffickers use, peer pressure, appropriate relationships, and speaking up when friends are in danger. Our goal is to strengthen youth, and the community of parents, teachers and staff that support them, so that they are no longer vulnerable to traffickers.
Teens Against Trafficking anticipates that youth aged 12-18 who complete the curriculum will not be trafficked for sex or labor in their lifetime. This expectation is based upon the following outcomes:
- (1) Increased understanding among youth, teachers, parents and service providers of human trafficking indicators and tactics used by traffickers,
- (2) Increase in healthy boundaries in relationships,
- (3) reduction of risky and/or predatory behavior both in person and online, and
- (4) an increased willingness to seek help for themselves for their peers.
IOB also expects that every dollar invested in prevention through this Project, will result in a cost savings of $34 for taxpayers (based on a study by the University of Minnesota, whose estimates were conservative and only accounted for financial burdens as a direct result of being trafficked).4
Teens Against Trafficking helps youth understand the lifelong repercussions of their seemingly temporary decisions. It also helps them understand what is and is not appropriate in relationships so that they can recognize false promises traffickers may make and be strong enough to say, “No,” to those who will hurt them. This is excellent preparation for self-protection against predators of all kinds as teens continue their independence after high school. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s 2015 guide entitled Human Trafficking in America’s Schools, “School personnel are uniquely positioned to identify and report suspected abuse and connect students to services—actions that can prevent trafficking and even save lives.”5
“Sex Trafficking is a more common issue than I originally thought it was. This happens at a young age and can happen to just about anyone anytime. This is also an issue that requires someone else to help out a lot. This happening so young really amazed me on how young people can be for this to happen. I am glad that now I know how to help someone and how I can get help.
PS. Probably the best presentation this year. This needs to be taught in all classes. For every school.”
“I am glad that Nita Belles came to our school and gave us this valuable information I really appreciate it.”
“Nita Belles gave a presentation on Trafficking in our backyard. The presentation showed examples of what trafficking could look like. I learned A lot of people are tricked into sex trafficking. I also learned that there are two different types of trafficking and human trafficking is the second largest and fastest- growing criminal enterprise in the world. I was surprised to learn that trafficking is more common than I thought it was. It was sad to see/hear examples of all these people who went through this. I now understand why it is important to be aware of your situation and other peoples as well, and if something seems off to take action to prevent the situation from going any deeper.”
“Nita and the IOB are professional, experienced, caring, thoughtful and connect with our teenagers in positive ways. They have a strong message and deliver that message with credibility and conviction.”
-Nathan Saito, Redmond High School, PE/Health Teacher
“Until I heard Mrs. Belles’ presentation, I did not think much of sex trafficking. However, the statistics speak greatly to the need to educate our youth about this troubling issues.”
-Lori Stock, Obsidian Middle School, Health and PE Instructor (6-8)
According to the U.S. Department of Education’s 2015 guide entitled Human Trafficking in America’s Schools, “School personnel are uniquely positioned to identify and report suspected abuse and connect students to services—actions that can prevent trafficking and even save lives.”
-U.S. Department of Education, Office of Safe and Healthy Students, Human Trafficking in America’s Schools, Washington, D.C., 2015
Our sponsors: In partnership with:
1. Carey, C., & Teplitsky, L. (2013). Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) in the Portland Metro Area. Portland State University.
2. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. http://www.missingkids.com/
3. National Human Trafficking Hotline. www.humantraffickinghotline.
4. Martin, L., Lotspeich, R., & Stark, L. (2012). Early Intervention to Avoid Sex Trading and Trafficking of Minnesota’s Female Youth: A Benefit-Cost Analysis. University of Minnesota Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center.
5. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Safe and Healthy Students, Human Trafficking in America’s Schools, Washington, D.C., 2015.