January is National Anti-Human Trafficking Month.  What exactly is human trafficking? It is a global crime that trades in people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds and exploits them for profit in some way. Two common ways people are exploited include being forced to work in dangerous and/or illegal conditions and being forced to have sexual contact with others.

As parents and caregivers, it is vitally important for us to understand how to recognize the signs of human trafficking and how to protect our children from this atrocious crime. When thinking about human trafficking, it seems like something that happens in movies or 3rd world countries. However, many times the signs are much more subtle and insidious than we realize. Children and teens can be trafficked right in front of us and we may never even suspect what is happening.

Although this is a difficult topic to talk about, it is essential that we educate ourselves about the reality of human trafficking in order to protect our children. In 2019, Florida was the first state in the nation to require schools to teach all students in grades K-12 about child trafficking prevention. However, it cannot be emphasized enough that all of us need to be knowledgeable about prevention and recognition of this terrible crime. Although our state led the nation in teaching our children about prevention of human trafficking, Florida is also ranked 3rd in the nation for reported human trafficking cases. Of the 767 reported cases of human trafficking in Florida in 2018, 20% of them involved minors.

The best way to protect your child is to talk to them, at their developmental level, about exploitation and human trafficking. For kids of all ages, this means teaching them to trust their instincts. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. If something feels wrong, it probably is.

For younger children, discuss specifically what a “stranger” is. Sometimes this concept is not as clear to kids as we believe. Talk about “what if” situations with your child. Role play possible situations at familiar locations – sports practice, in the grocery store, at a movie theater, a theme park, etc. Remind your kids that it is always the right thing to do to tell a trusted adult if someone makes them feel uncomfortable or afraid in any way. Help them identify 3-5 trusted adults in their lives that they can go to at any time or in any situation. Create a password that only your family members know. If an adult approaches your child and doesn’t know the password, then it’s not safe to speak or go anywhere with them.

It is very common for traffickers and predators to look for and target their victims online or through social media. The vast majority of young people have their own cell phone or computer, and virtually all of them have access to the internet and social media in some way.  Cell phone location tracking can help you stay notified about where your child is, especially in the event of an emergency. Educate yourself on the popular apps and social media platforms used by young people. Know where your kids are at all times. Know what your kids are doing online and teach them about internet safety. Discuss the importance of not sending pictures or personal information to any unknown person over social media. 20% of middle schoolers report receiving sexually explicit messages. Sexting is much more common than many adults realize. Even if your teen is reluctant to talk about it, having this conversation with them could be life changing or even life saving.

There’s no way to include all the valuable information about prevention of human trafficking and how to protect our children in one newsletter article. I am providing links to some excellent resources for parents and caregivers regarding this topic below. If you suspect human trafficking of any kind, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. You can also call the Florida Abuse Hotline at 1-800-962-2873. If you’re not sure what to do, your child’s school counselor or administrator is a good place to start. They can help you identify resources and report suspected abuse.

Links for more resource about the prevention of human trafficking:






Thank you for recognizing the importance of learning about preventing human trafficking to keep our children and communities safe.

Deborah Godbold

District Mental Health Counselor

Suwannee County School District