Wayne County School counselors and administrators gathered recently for a meeting to learn more about “Crimes against Children and Human Trafficking on the Internet” to enlighten them in order to try and combat this increasing nationwide problem.
Wayne County Schools Director of Pupil Personnel Stewart York introduced the group to Supervisory Special Agent Grant R. Blevins of the U.S. Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Investigation, who gave an informative presentation on this alarming issue in Kentucky. Blevins, whose family is from Wayne County and has ties to Wayne County Schools, provided the local educators with a professional view of what is happening in the 23 counties that the five FBI agents based in London and two FBI agents in Pikeville are encountering on a regular basis. He explained how the Internet has made changes in the lives of young people in a negative way. “There’s a whole other world out there that’s taking place,” warned Agent Blevins.
His message was to try and make kids safer. He explained that these crimes that effect vulnerable children do not just happen in metropolitan areas. In fact, he said some of the most egregious incidents happen in rural areas in remote locations where there is not much to do for young people. It is not uncommon for juveniles to inadvertently become involved in sextortion which is a type of blackmail that happens when someone threatens to share or publish private, sensitive material unless the victim sends those sexually explicit images, perform sexual favors, or give them money. Sextortion is a serious crime, with victims tricked or coerced into sending personal sexual images or videos.
Besides the crime itself, the photo can be used against the victim years later in perhaps a job interview situation. Not only can the photo be used against them, but extreme situations can lead to teenage suicide.
Human trafficking is a rapidly growing crime, according to Blevins. It is a crime which often victimizes children who are missing. Kentucky’s location and major interstates make it a location conducive to the crime. This fact makes it critical that educators be aware of the reality of the crime. The efforts of collaborating state agencies, with schools being a primary partner, play an integral role in locating the child and potentially saving that child from a life of victimization.
Human trafficking is the exploitation of another individual for labor and/or commercial sex though the use of fraud, force, or coercion, making it modern day slavery. Educators have a unique opportunity to safeguard their students from trafficking but most have little knowledge about the subject. Recognizing a victim is difficult because many of these red flags could apply to other situations such as drug abuse or homelessness.
Agent Blevins told the educators to notice new jewelry on a student or if they had been talking about traveling with someone that had picked them up, in their classrooms. Their family situation may be so bad that getting a chance for something new or getting to go on a trip is the only thing positive in their life, so they seize the opportunity. He said it is a weekly occurrence for travelers coming to find the girls or sometimes boys they have talked to on the Internet. They take their images and trade and sell them. He said they’ve even had cases where a parent trades or barters for use of their children for drugs or for rent money. “The prison sentence is extremely high for these crimes,” he said.
“There is more of this activity than we can address,” said Agent Blevins. “We have to ask other agencies to help.”
He said the victims range from third graders to eighth graders. It is most commonly discovered at middle school age. Youngsters that are gaming on the computer can easily find themselves in chat rooms. They usually think they are communicating with another young person, but they could be talking to a misguided adult that is posing as a young girl or boy.
DPP Stewart York echoed his fellow educators’ concern and appreciation to Agent Blevins for the eye-opening presentation. He offered the district’s support to try and protect local students in this regard and to be aware of this type of victimization. In collaboration with the Human Trafficking State Task Force, KDE is working to create awareness on the issue of child human trafficking. One task has been to create a one-page protocol which lists indicators of trafficking, how to report suspected cases, as well as how to support the subsequent investigation. Training for educators on risk factors for vulnerable children and the signs of trafficking is available from KDE as well as the Attorney General's office. After reporting a suspected case, educators must be cautious not to intervene in a way that might jeopardize an investigation because victims are under the power and control of the trafficker and often try to protect the trafficker.
(l-r:) Supervisory Special Agent Grant R. Blevins of the U.S. Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Investigation, School Resource Officer Tommy Spencer and Wayne County Schools DPP/Safety Coordinator Stewart York
Wayne County School DPP Stewart York chatted with FBI Agent Grant Blevins
Above and Below- FBI Agent Grant Blevins gave a very professional presentation to counselors and administrators from across the district.