Methods: Representative samples of NC school superintendents and principals were emailed an invitation to complete an electronic survey regarding their knowledge, perceptions, and recommendations for educating youth about sex trafficking, with the majority of survey questions being close-ended. The survey was developed by the research team and revised based on expert feedback and pilot testing. A total of 88 persons completed the survey (64 superintendents and 24 principals). Data were analyzed descriptively.
Key stakeholders with expertise in sex trafficking, prevention, education or response (e.g., anti-human trafficking advocates, prevention specialists, sex trafficking researchers, law enforcement, educators, attorneys) were invited to participate in discussion groups or interviews that asked about challenges and recommendations for educating youth about sex trafficking. Thirty-two stakeholders participated. Multiple coders analyzed the resulting data using a qualitative description, open-coding approach.
Results: Principals and superintendents identified potential challenges to educating youth about sex trafficking, including the sensitive nature of sex trafficking (71%), parental concerns (68%), and competing demands (65%). These challenges also emerged in the qualitative stakeholder data. As an additional challenge, the majority of principals (86%) and slightly under half of superintendents (43%) were unfamiliar or only slightly familiar with the legal requirement to educate youth about sex trafficking prevention and awareness. Stakeholders highlighted additional challenges such as school buy-in; talking about sex in schools; decentralized school system; lack of awareness among teachers and school staff; and lack of clarity around reporting requirements. Principals, superintendents, and stakeholders shared recommendations regarding content and delivery. Recommended content included information about sex trafficking (e.g., definitions, myths, warning signs, grooming), personal safety (e.g., consent, healthy relationships and communication, internet safety, sexting), and response (e.g., safe people, resources, bystander behaviors). Findings regarding delivery format and who should deliver the content were mixed.
Conclusions/Implications: These findings highlight that individuals responsible for carrying out school educational policies are not always aware of mandated requirements. Such findings carry important implications for identifying effective strategies for communicating policy changes to key implementers, such as superintendents and principals. Numerous challenges were identified to teach youth about sex trafficking. Addressing such challenges by educating communities, parents, and school personnel is critical for ensuring the implementation of efforts to educate youth about sex trafficking awareness and prevention. Recommendations to guide the development of materials to educate youth will be discussed.