New laws expand human trafficking awareness in school

New laws expand human trafficking awareness in school

(Calif.) Two bills seeking to combat the trafficking of children by increasing awareness of the issue with students and their parents were among the final pieces of legislation recently signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The first, AB 1861, requires schools to provide students and parents with information about how social media and mobile applications are used to target vulnerable children for human trafficking, and training on how to prevent it.

The second, SB 1104, calls on schools to provide prevention resources to parents and guardians to help them identify signs that their child is being groomed for trafficking.

Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, said ensuring families are aware of the signs of human trafficking is vital, because victims are often forced to remain silent, and are likely to be fearful of or too embarrassed to reach out for help.

“The biggest challenge in this crucial fight against human trafficking is the clandestine nature of the crime and the stigma tied to being exploited,” Roth said in a statement. “That is why it is imperative for us to ensure we empower others to have a voice. Parents and guardians know their children–they are keen observers able to identify any sudden changes in their child’s behavior.”

National data collected by the D.C.-based nonprofit Polaris Project shows that cases of reported human trafficking has rapidly increased each year, with the most significant jump in 2016.

More than 8,000 cases were reported to the hotlines in 2016, compared to nearly 6,000 the year prior. Polaris officials attribute much of the increase to greater awareness of human sex or labor trafficking, as well as how lucrative it has become for criminals who used to focus primarily on drug dealing or smuggling.

According to data collected by Polaris, which runs the national trafficking reporting hotline, California is the leading state in the U.S. for human trafficking. Of the 8,000 cases reported in 2016, California alone counted for more than 1,300 of the nation’s reported cases of human trafficking–nearly doubling any other state.

Technological and social media advances have given traffickers the ability to lure and exploit a greater number of children and teenagers into human trafficking circles through online mass messaging, versus luring victims individually on the streets, according to Assemblyman Freddie Rodriguez, D-Pomona, and author of AB 1861.

Targeting that issue, his bill adds information on how social media and various apps are used for human trafficking to the required comprehensive sexual health education for students in grades seven through 12.

Roth’s bill, meanwhile, requires schools serving students from grades six to 12 to identify methods of informing parents of human trafficking prevention resources. Human trafficking affects families from all walks of life and many parents have limited understanding of the issue and how it begins, Roth said.

“Laws are still catching up to the crime,” Roth said. “If parents and guardians continue to remain relatively ignorant about the reality of modern slavery, how can we truly say we are doing everything in our power to protect California’s youth?”

Other bills signed include:

AB 2315 by Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Fullerton, which requires the California Department of Education and the Department of Health Care Services to develop guidelines on how public schools can use technology to provide mental and behavioral health services to students–something that could drastically benefit children in rural areas.

AB 2289 by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, which creates a consistent policy across the state that provides a minimum of six weeks of protected parental leave from school for teen mothers, and two additional weeks for births with complications. The new law also provides four weeks of school leave for teen fathers to care for and bond with their infant.

AB 3022 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, another San Diego Democrat, districts, county offices of education and charter schools are authorized to retroactively grant a high school diploma to a student who was deported while enrolled in grade 12 if they were in good academic standing.

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