A Child-Centered Approach to Ending Exploitation Means Prioritizing Prevention
For a long time, the international community – unified through The United Nations – has agreed that to address the problem of child trafficking, a tri-pronged approach is necessary. This approach involves criminalizing and prosecuting the exploitation and trafficking of children, providing assistance to victims, and developing effective prevention programs. While there is work to be done in all three areas, prevention has taken a backseat. According to Jonathan Todres, Professor of Law at Georgia State University,
“Instead of choosing prevention as the starting point for developing an effective response to child trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation, to date most governments have paid the least attention to what is actually the end goal. In fact, in many locales, prevention measures have been nonexistent.”
In recent years, there have been extensive improvements from a law-enforcement approach and a victim-centered approach. According to Shared Hope, in 2011, more than 20 states received an “F” grade for legislation related to criminalization of trafficking and provisions for survivors, but by 2016, no states received a score of “F.” In fact, the majority of states had earned a grade of “A” or “B.” For many years, Polaris Project also tracked developments in laws that improve provisions for survivors while criminalizing the act of trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. By 2014, only 8 states and the District of Columbia did not satisfy requirements to earn Polaris Project’s Tier 1 ranking, and none were in the lowest Tier 4 ranking.
The U.S. has seen vast improvements from a law enforcement approach and victim-centered approach. However, similar efforts to track and nurture improvements in prevention – or, a child-centered approach – are, it would seem, almost non-existent.
This is unfortunate, because a child-centered approach should also be a top priority. In his article on “Taking Prevention Seriously,” Jonathan Todres explains that “a child-centered approach would mean considering all children, not just victims, and accounting for the needs and rights of all children.” A child-centered approach:
- Recognizes vulnerability and protects children before exploitation occurs
- Addresses the roots of the problems that generate supply and demand.
- Provides services for exploited youth that ensure recovery and do not expose the child to re-traumatization
Numerous factors contribute to prevention. Services in the arenas of health, housing, industry sectors (such as tourism, transportation, entertainment, etc), human services, education, and more bear ample opportunities for a range of preventative measures, each contributing dynamically to the goal of protecting youth before exploitation can occur. In each of these areas, a child-centered approach will maximize a child’s well-being and minimize risk of harm. As Todres pointed out,
“Continuing to deal only with victimized children after-the-fact is an unwinnable situation, as there are too many exploited children.”
The time has come to prioritize prevention. iEmpathize is dedicated to just that. In 2015, we released an exploitation prevention curriculum that equips adults who work with youth aged twelve and up to provide positive and empowering prevention education. This curriculum – The Empower Youth Program – is in use in across the nation. In just two years, we’ve expanded opportunities for prevention to thousands of youth.
We’re proud of what we have accomplished, but there is much more work to be done. We are committed to helping communities to not only access effective and innovative resources, but to also overcome barriers that limit action.
To advance the priority of prevention, we conducted a state-by-state review of legislatively enacted provisions that prioritize prevention education for youth. While this research did not examine the many other important safeguards that should also be in place to protect youth (such as access to safe housing, food, health care, family services, internet safety improvements, and more) it does focus on the measures that ensure youth have access to prevention education through the public school system. After all, as Sarah Godoy, Research Associate at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior has pointed out,
“The School district is the last point of contact before you can really lose at-risk populations.”
So how can you help? Join the conversation on how states can enhance services to protect youth through a child-centered approach, a prevention approach. Join us in rallying gatekeepers to recognize the necessity to provide prevention education to youth, including your school leaders and your state representatives. Sponsor prevention for youth. Bring prevention to your community. Participate in a movement of empathy.
We can’t do it without you, but we can help you take those steps. Let’s do it together.
Empathy = Ending It.
By Candace Joice, iE Education Director
iv “Taking Prevention Seriously: Developing a Comprehensive Response to Child Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation” by Jonathan Todres – Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law