Schools and Human Trafficking: Response and Protocol

If we know students are at-risk of human trafficking and exploitation, then what are schools doing to respond?

Schools, teachers, professors, administrators, school nurses, bus drivers, SROs, custodial staff, coaches, advisors, and more are uniquely and strategically positioned to engage.

University staff and educators regularly interact with students, notice when they are not present, and are aware of behavioral and environmental changes that can make students vulnerable to human trafficking. It is crucial to equip staff and personnel to know what to do if human trafficking is suspected or reported.

In part one of our Back to School series, we explored what makes a youth vulnerable, what human trafficking and exploitation of students look like, and provided resources to equip parents. We learned that students are at-risk of human trafficking and talked about the tactics used to recruit them. But you may wonder: what are schools doing to address and protect students?

In this post, we’ll explore what efforts currently exist for schools and discuss one of the most important steps schools can take to protect and support their students.

What’s already being done?

It is important for educators to be familiar with existing efforts, both in their community and nationally, in order to address the issue and serve vulnerable populations within their schools. Knowing what is available as well as who is working on behalf of the students can help educators know who to reach out to for resources.


As states recognize students are at-risk, many legislatures have passed laws requiring the inclusion of staff training and/or prevention education in the curriculum.

California Assembly Bill 1227 requires human trafficking prevention education in public schools and amends existing law to require the continuation of training for school district personnel regarding human trafficking.

Several states have also dedicated pages to human trafficking on their Department of Education websites. Some states include California, Florida, Georgia, Texas, and Virginia.

Prevention education

Schools across the U.S. have begun to include prevention education in their school curriculums. School districts have recognized that educating youth about indicators and warning signs is critical. Many youth do not know they are at-risk or have been recruited because they don’t know the tactics of traffickers.

Prevention education can take many forms. It may be a one-time assembly addressing online safety, a program incorporated into a history or health class, or an on-site exhibit in a main area of campus.

Resources may cover both sex and labor trafficking, include a historical analysis of slavery from the early slave trade to modern day slavery, or involve a service-learning project.

School resources that have been utilized throughout the U.S. for middle and/or high schools include Bodies Are Not Commodities, Empower Youth Program, kNOw MORE!, Prevention Project, Project STARFISH, and PROTECT.

Universities are also incorporating human trafficking in a variety of ways. These include offering a certificate on human trafficking, a course that identifies the intersection of human trafficking with business supply chains, a full degree, a study abroad opportunity, or an aspect of a clinic offered on campus.

For more resources specific to the education community visit

The Most Important Piece

Universities, K-12 educators, and students are in a unique position to identify, respond, and advocate for victims of human trafficking and exploitation. But the important question is, do they know how?

When education programs and resources are incorporated and utilized, many schools see an increase in self-identification and reporting.

While it is critical to educate students and train staff, if there are not protocols in place for when identifications are made, then responses are delayed, and students do not receive the support and services they need.

When talking about protocols, it is important to distinguish awareness from training. Making staff and personnel aware of human trafficking is the first step. Training them on what to do if they suspect, identify, or have a student report human trafficking is part of a comprehensive response.

Protocols need to be included in training for all staff, from bus drivers to administrators. Everyone that interacts with students must know what procedures to follow in order to ensure students are safe and protected.

The Department of Education released Trafficking in America’s Schools to help schools understand how human trafficking intersects with schools, know what indicators to look for, and develop the necessary policies and procedures to protect youth.

The guide also emphasizes that schools cannot respond alone – they need to know what organizations or agencies are present in their communities as well as what resources are available so they can work together to create solutions. Collaborations with social services, law enforcement, child protective services, community organizations, and more will provide a more effective response.

Included in the resource is a sample protocol for school districts along with guidelines for anti-trafficking protocols.

Colleges and universities need to have protocols that include campus police/safety, school nurses, and on campus as well as community resource centers. Knowing how to help a student report trafficking and receive services ensures a rapid response.

Now that you know what schools can do, take time to learn what your school is doing. Universities and schools need to be safe havens for students and include resources and protocols that can equip them to end human trafficking and protect the vulnerable.

Now that you have learned what schools can do, take the next step: earn your free Human Trafficking Awareness Badge with Justice U™.