The practice of pimps recruiting children from middle schools and high schools is no longer a rare occurrence. In fact, it has become so common that the U.S. Department of Education has created a fact sheet for teachers and schools, helping them keep pimps and human traffickers from recruiting on campus and flagging the signs that a child is engaged in commercial sex. According to U.S. law, any person under 18 engaged in commercial sex is a human trafficking victim. Here’s how to tell if pimps are recruiting at a school near you.
Children recruited by pimps don’t match one demographic. They can be male or female, though the majority are female. They can be any race, and pimps have recruited children as young as 9 or 10 into commercial sex, though the majority of victims are in their teens. Despite the diversity of victims, there are some signs teachers and administrators can look for which may indicate that a child is being victimized in the commercial sex industry. These include:
- Has unexplained absences from school for long periods of time. Pimps may pull victims out of school and force them to travel for prostitution, or otherwise prevent them from attending school.
- Chronically runs away from home. Kids who run away from home multiple times are at an increased risk for being recruited by pimps.
- Exhibits bruises or other physical trauma, withdrawn behavior, depression, or fear. Some pimps will physically beat the children they manage in order to keep them in line. Others will use psychological manipulation to keep the their victims dependent and isolated.
- Lacks control over her or his identification documents. Children under pimp control may not be allowed to carry their own ID (for fear of identification as a minor by law enforcement) or may have immigration documents confiscated.
- Is inappropriately dressed for weather or surroundings. Children in commercial sex may wear inappropriately skimpy clothes for to school or appear under-dressed for cold weather.
- Demonstrates a sudden change in attire or increase in material possessions. Pimps will sometimes buy the girls they control expensive gifts as a reward for making money for them.
- Makes references to sexual situations that are beyond age-specific norms. Children who have sexual knowledge, and especially knowledge or terminology of the commercial sex industry far beyond the norm for their age may be under pimp control.
- Has a “boyfriend” who is noticeably older. Pimps often present themselves as “boyfriends,” and are often ten or more years older than the minor they’re in a relationship with.
You can check out the DOE’s entire fact sheet here, which has more information about what to look for in a school that may be a sign of commercial sexual exploitation of minors. None of these indicators are proof that child trafficking is taking place, but are red flags that teachers and school administrators should keep an eye out for. If you suspect a situation of human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 to report it.
Photo credit: Rob Shenk