To find a real-life reason why FYI felt compelled to start its new human trafficking awareness initiative, you need look no further than the impact of our Real Life Teen Choices in-school education program.
FYI’s S.T.O.P. initiative (Safeguarding Those Oppressed by Predators) can be stressed in all three of our programs, but Real Life is where it can reach the most potential victims.
The average entry age of a trafficking victim is 12 to 14 years old, and our Real Life program is bringing the message to students in middle and high school in seven counties. During our last non-pandemic school year, we reached nearly 7,500 students, allowing us the opportunity to identify potential victims.
The statistics don’t lie. Trafficking cases have tripled over the last year, and our state is fifth in the nation for recorded occurrences. In most cases, the victims know their traffickers personally. Because of this, it is hard to detect and easy to hide. There is a good chance you’ve met a victim, but are not aware of it.
“The educators have been trained over the last few years on the dangers of this, but it wasn’t specifically being shared in the classroom,” said FYI Executive Director Nikki Stefanow. “They have been talking about pornography and internet safety for a long time, but now are more intentional about the link between that and human trafficking.”
“The terminology being used is also much more intentional now that we have better knowledge and training. ” said Real Life Director Rebecca Swearingen. “Students are taught to look at privacy settings and report online activity. They are listening.”
“Our educators are as excited to be back in person,” said Rebecca. “It's easier to read the students and make sure they are comprehending. They can ask questions and be more engaged with the materials, and it's easier to identify the red flags.”
“We did come across a student who shared information that had several red flags to being trafficked,” said Rebecca. “It was reported and the authorities were brought in to ensure the student's safety.”
Teachers are being made more aware and identifying red flags through our S.T.O.P. initiative as well. Our teachers make great partners. We are very grateful for their support, and have been delivering thank you gifts this week to them (see photo).
Obviously from the tripled rate of occurrence over the past year, the pandemic has not provided relief for human trafficking victims. Awareness has to be brought to the forefront. Rebecca has also been extending the awareness beyond the classroom, making human trafficking awareness presentations to the rotaries in New Carlisle and Huber Heights.
“The rotary members have been surprised to hear the information shared,” she said. “Scott Griffith, Lee’s Chicken franchise owner), was holding an online gaming night for teens and asked how he could ensure the kids were safe from predators.”
If you suspect human trafficking, there is a national hotline you can call at 888-373-7888 for resources to help the victim escape.
FYI feels well-positioned to make a difference in this endeavor.
“All of our programs are focused on strengthening families and healthy relationships, keeping kids safe from trauma,” said Nikki. “This is a natural fit for FYI.”
If you’d like to make a donation to help us in our pledge to increase human trafficking awareness, please visit fyiohio.org where you can designate a gift specifically for the S.T.O.P. initiative. If you have any questions, give us a call at (937) 845-0403.