School Workers in NC Must Now Be Trained to Spot Sex Trafficking

The need for the training is high. The former chairwoman of the state Human Trafficking Commission said North Carolina is thought to have one of the top rates of human trafficking in the nation.

The News & Observer

By T. Keung Hui

All North Carolina school districts are now required to have an employee training program in place for reporting and preventing child sexual abuse and sex trafficking.

The new training requirements are part of an overhaul of the state’s sexual assault laws that include making it a Class 1 misdemeanor for anyone age 18 or over to fail to notify the authorities when he or she suspects or knows that a child is being physically or sexually abused, the News & Observer previously reported.

Other changes include extending the statute of limitations for civil suits against perpetrators of child abuse and includes a number of other safety protections for children, Carolina Public Press previously reported.

Justice will not be denied just because it’s delayed,” Gov. Roy Cooper said at a ceremony in November where he signed the new legislation. “Finally, in North Carolina, people are required to speak up for sexually abused children.”
North Carolina High in Human Trafficking

The need for the training is high. The former chairwoman of the state Human Trafficking Commission said North Carolina is thought to have one of the top rates of human trafficking in the nation, the News & Observer previously reported.

In November, a Durham jury convicted a man of attempted human trafficking of a 16-year-old minor and first-degree kidnapping. But human trafficking charges in North Carolina are rare and convictions rarer still, the News & Observer previously reported.

Across the state, there have been only nine human trafficking convictions, including five involving children, in North Carolina courts since 2013, according to the N.C. Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission.

Senate Bill 199 was unanimously approved by state lawmakers in October. It included a short timetable for school districts to pick a new employee training program by Jan. 1.

Tharrington Smith, a Raleigh law firm that represents several school districts, including Wake County, encouraged school boards to pass a resolution in December authorizing their superintendent to select a training program.

Learning About Warning Signs of Sex Trafficking

The law requires all public schools, including charter schools, to train school employees who work directly with students. The training program is supposed to include:

  • Best practices from the field of prevention.
  • The grooming process of sexual predators.
  • The warning signs of sexual abuse and sex trafficking.
  • How to intervene when sexual abuse or sex trafficking is suspected or disclosed.
  • Legal responsibilities for reporting sexual abuse or sex trafficking.
  • Available resources for assistance.

On Dec. 17, the Wake County school board authorized Superintendent Cathy Moore to select a program. The school system is closed for winter break so it was not immediately clear what program Moore might have picked since the board vote.

School board member Monika Johnson-Hostler applauded district staff for taking the time to pick the “right curriculum” for the district. Johnson-Hostler is executive director of the N.C. Coalition Against Sexual Assault and a member of the state’s Human Trafficking Commission.

I appreciate you all not taking something off the shelf and going with it to make this quick,” Johnson-Hostler said at the board meeting. “But you and your staff are dedicated to diligently ensuring that we’re using best practices and that you are also having the conversation with the staff to ensure that we have their full buy-in for the curriculum that will be used for Wake County Public Schools.”
Some Students Will Fall Under the Law 

Wake school board member Jim Martin also said he supported the new law. But Martin asked whether Wake should also be training its older students because the law says adults must report to law enforcement their suspicions of sexual and physical abuse of children.

All 18-year-olds become mandatory reporters,” Martin said. “That means most of our seniors, some of our juniors. So a lot of our students will also fall under the law.”

Paul Koh, Wake’s assistant superintendent for student support services, told Martin that staff will determine what to do with students after reviewing the district’s current training program. Wake already provides some students, such as those in grades 7-9, education about human trafficking.

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