Special Education & Sex Trafficking Information for
6th – 8th Grade Teachers
Healthy vs. Unhealthy Relationships – Middle schoolers want to be more independent and spend more time with friends. As their independence grows, it is common to also explore romantic relationships. The below information can be used to engage the student in conversation about healthy relationships and to teach about sex trafficking.
Having romantic relationships can be a lot of fun, but they can also feel overwhelming and stressful if the relationship isn’t healthy. Understanding healthy traits and unhealthy traits of romantic relationships is important to ensure we stay safe. Examples of healthy relationships include respect, equality, communication1, and consent. Respect is when we feel valued, support, and encourage each other. Equity is when we are treated equally and both individuals are cooperating and compromising.
Some examples of unhealthy relationships include lack of communication, confusion, being pressured, or feelings of disrespect. If you know someone who “pressures you into sexual or physical things you don’t want to do,2” find a trusted adult for help.
Consent is giving someone permission. Consent is not a “shrug, someone feeling uncomfortable, drunk or high”7, or silence. Sexual consent means both individuals are in agreement to engage in sexual behaviors.
Coercion is when someone pressures you into doing something you don’t really want to do. It is not giving consent. It is not consent when someone pressures “you to do more physical or sexual acts – you don’t need to do anything you don’t want to.4” When drugs or alcohol are involved, the answer is always no.
You have the right to change your mind at any time. Communication with each other and respect towards one another is very important. Consent doesn’t mean everything all the time. Be sure to ask your partner if they are comfortable and willing to do something.
Disability and Sexuality
It is common for people to get crushes and be attracted to others, it’s normal. People may assume that people with disabilities don’t get crushes or feel attracted to others, but “people with disabilities have the same sexual and romantic feelings as everyone else3.” People with disabilities may also have varying sexual identities and gender orientation. No matter how someone may look or identify, the same rules in healthy relationships apply: respect, equity, communication, and consent. It’s normal to feel nervous or scared when getting to know a crush or asking them out on a date. As long as everyone continues practicing treating others with respect, practicing communicating what they like or don’t like, and treating each other the way each person wants to be treated, new friends will be made and maybe even start dating if that’s what both friends want. However, sometimes, when someone is asked to go on a date or to be a romantic partner, they may say no. That’s okay. It may hurt, but no one should be forced to do something that someone else wants.
Sexting is when someone sends another person sexually explicit photos, videos, or messages6. Sexting can include sending a naked photo or almost naked photo to someone. This includes videos and messages too5.
It is normal to feel attracted to someone. However, it can be dangerous when someone asks for naked photos. It may seem okay to share photos with a crush, but it can lead to many consequences like sexual harassment and no one ever knows what someone else may do with the photos. They might show the pictures to others or post them online without getting consent. It is encouraged to never send anyone a naked photo or video of yourself to protect you. It may feel good when someone we like asks for photos/video, but the risks are far too high. 6
It’s not clear whether students are exposed to discussions on substance abuse. Recent research shows that the average age of first substance use was 14.8 years old (YES 2020). Continuing to engage in conversation about substance abuse is important. Discussing the short term and long term effects can be effective, but it is important to explain why. Students are curious and keep an open conversation about being safe when engaging in substance use. Learning who to contact if an emergency pops up is a skill students can carry with them as they become older. Here are some resources that teachers and schools can implement.
Free Prevention material for teachers:
- Video on teen brain development
- Video on how alcohol affects the brain Teacher Toolkit, Videos, and Resources https://asklistenlearn.org/teachers/teaching-effects-alcohol-brain/
- National Institute on Drug Abuse Science on Demand: NIDA’s Drug and Alcohol Lessons and Acivities https://teens.drugabuse.gov/teachers/nidas-drug-alcohol-lessons-activities
- National Institute on Drug Abuse Q&A videos: Teacher guide https://teens.drugabuse.gov/teachers/nida-scientist-virtual-q-a-videos-teachers-guide
- Conversation Starter Cards https://s18670.pcdn.co/wp-content/uploads/Conversation-Starters-WAT-1.pdf
“Sexual assault is when someone does something sexual to another person without getting their permission first.” 7 This can include getting touched somewhere that is uncomfortable, getting something inserted into any body part, or showing something sexual without consent. If any student is assaulted:
Remember it’s not your fault no matter who you were with, how you were dressed, or what you were doing.
Speak to a trusted adult, like a parent, teacher, school counselor, etc. If a friend confides sexual assault, encourage them to speak to a trusted adult. “It’s important to protect yourself and other people too.”7
If someone hurts or sexually assaults you, seek medical attention for additional support.
Sexual Assault can happen to anyone, females, males, transgender, etc. There are resources available to speak to someone anonymous for help. Classrooms can watch this video to see an example of a male speaking to an advocate.
Friends look out for each other
When someone we find attractive speaks to us and spends time with us, it can feel really good and make us happy. In the excitement, sometimes we can miss red flags. As friends, if we see a friend “in a potentially dangerous situation, don’t look the other way8.” If you notice that your friend is isolating more or seems to be controlled by their boyfriend or girlfriend, this is a red flag that could be sexual abuse. “Friends can see the red flags that we can’t and that’s why friends should never look the other way8.” If you are in a relationship with someone and you are being forced to do something you do not want to do and do not know how to get out of a situation, reach out to a safe adult. As a friend, if someone tells you things they are worried about in their relationship, encourage them to speak to a safe adult, like your teacher.
When someone attractive speaks to and spends time with another, it can cause that person to feel really good and happy. In the excitement, sometimes it is easy to miss red flags. When friends are seen “in a potentially dangerous situation, don’t look the other way.8” If someone notices a friend is isolating more or seem to be controlled by their boyfriend or girlfriend, this is a red flag that there could be sexual abuse. “Friends can see the red flags that we can’t and that’s why friends should never look the other way.8” It is important to reach out to a safe adult when a person is in a relationship with someone and she or he is being forced to do something they don’t want to do but don’t know how to get out of the situation. When friends are told things by someone that the person is worried about in a relationship, encourage the person to speak to a safe adult like a teacher.
Watching the number of likes and comments from posting a picture or video can feel validating. It can feel like the person is being seen, heard, and part of a community. Clear online boundaries include making an account private, having every account request to follow you, and not posting personal information. Without clear online boundaries, it is easier for traffickers to learn about individuals in ways that can put themselves at risk for sex trafficking. Recruitment online can start through commenting on photos and messaging individuals by building a sense of connection and close relationship to fake a feeling of trust for the individual11. Individuals can create clear online boundaries through the settings of their social media accounts.
Social media has features to help limit the personal information everyone can see like:
- Blocking unknown people
- Blocking people they do not want to see their account
- Being able to accept what tagged photos others may try posting of them on their account page
- Hiding location services
- Not using their picture in their profile (maybe use a picture of their pet or favorite color)11.
Online Safety Resources for Teachers
NetSmartz is a website developed by NCMEC. NetSmartz is an online tool teachers, parents, and students (elementary, middle, and high school) can use to learn about cyberbullying, online enticement, smartphones, live streaming, gaming, social media, and sexting/sextortion in both English and Spanish. Through age-appropriate videos and activities to engage students, the goal is to prepare students to become aware of potential online risks and empower them to make safer choices on- and offline.
Sex Trafficking is “when one person causes another to take part in sexual behaviors to gain something of value, like money, food, a place to stay, clothes, drugs, a job, or even a ride to school” 9. A trafficker can be anyone, whether the victim knows them or not. This person could be a friend, a family member, or someone you met online who is friendly or romantic towards you. Traffickers use a technique called grooming to build a sense of trust with individuals, this could be in the form of “love, romance, and/or safety”9. If the victim doesn’t want to do what the trafficker wants them to do, like sexual behaviors, the trafficker can use techniques like lying, manipulation (gifts or protection), or make threats (threats to the individual or towards the individual’s family).
Sex trafficking is illegal. For anyone under the age of 18 years old, remember that it is illegal for a minor to exchange a sexual act for something of value.
Types of disguises
Ask students to describe what they imagine, or are told, what traffickers or a pimp look like. Explain to the students that there is no one way a trafficker may appear. Traffickers can be males or females and they can look like another young person or trusted adult. What makes traffickers different is their way of getting to know people on a personal level: what people like, what people don’t like, who their family is, who their friends are, where they go to school, etc. Sometimes traffickers will send someone many gifts to get someone to like them, to show that they are listening. This could be flowers, buying someone’s favorite chocolate, purses, a new phone, clothes, etc. This behavior may come off like a stalker, but it can be hard to see this behavior as a stalker when a person is enjoying the attention or when there seems to be common interests, thus causing feelings like a new friend or romantic partner is being made.
Some questions to ask are:
- Is the person older?
- Have I met this person in person or only online?
- How long have I known them?
- How did we meet?
- AMAZE Org. (2018, February 15). What Makes A Relationship Healthy? [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UB9anEZx9LU
- AMAZE Org. (2017, April 13). Healthy vs Unhealthy Relationships [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gn7ZQ2x0cOE
- AMAZE Org. (2019, March 28). Disability And Sexuality [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MfYSpuKq_-8
- AMAZE Org. (2017, August 17). Saying Yes or No: What Is Consent? [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4z9_L9FXA3o
- Ben-Joseph, E. P. (2018, April). Sexting: What parents need to know (for parents) – nemours kidshealth. Retrieved February 17, 2021, from https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/2011-sexting.html
- AMAZE Org. (2018, April 26). Sexting: What Should You Do? [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWxAimnKupE
- AMAZE Org. (2019, September 13). What Is Sexual Assault? [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_yJZ9G-tt4
- AMAZE Org. (2020, April 16). Friends Can Help Stop Sexual Abuse [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3L0iKqCaC0
- AMAZE Org. (2019, January 17). Sex Trafficking: What is it? [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=STdXo0qpwmo
- VICE News. (2018, September 25). How To Get High Schoolers To Rethink Sexual Consent And Assault (HBO) [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4BxuG5xMD0
- Anthony, B. (2018, July). On-Ramps, Intersections, and Exit Routes: A Roadmap for Systems and Industries to Prevent and Disrupt Human Trafficking. https://polarisproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/A-Roadmap-for-Systems-and-Industries-to-Prevent-and-Disrupt-Human-Trafficking-Social-Media.pdf