People can be shocked to learn that Toledo, Ohio, ranks fourth among cities when it comes to arrests and investigations related to child sex trafficking, according to the FBI’s Innocence Lost National Initiative. A key reason: The city is a major crossroads for the type of high-volume interstate trucking that often fuels a sex-for-pay industry preying on minors.
Mona Al-Hayani, a Toledo high school history teacher and vice president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers, is working to turn that initial shock into something far more constructive—information that sparks action. She has conducted research and developed training that can help increase school awareness when it comes to the problem of human sex trafficking. It is work that fosters the type of timely reporting and intervention that can help mitigate the problem.
"Often, people think that kids who are trafficked are always kidnapped," Al-Hayani observes, and that is simply not the case. "These kids are often still going to school. In fact, having a friend who is selling herself is a risk factor among trafficked youth."
Providing awareness using local data is at the heart of her training on sex trafficking. Under a recent state law, all schools are required to address this topic as part of in-service training on school violence and prevention; but the materials just weren't available for schools when the mandate took effect. The state department of education "had one slide, with a very flimsy definition of sex trafficking," Al-Hayani remembers.
The teacher began her work after fielding a request from her union president to serve as project manager for a sex trafficking mitigation project, part of an AFT-created pilot in Toledo, Houston and Baltimore—three cities where the incidence of human sex trafficking ranks relatively high. To date, more than 2,000 teachers, PSRPs, nurses, school transportation workers and administrators have taken part in the training.
"Educators are on the frontlines" in the fight against sex trafficking, Al-Hayani says. "Many of the risk indicators show up in school, things like truancy, a drop in grades, difficulty making friends, new and expensive clothing, and a boyfriend who is 10 or more years older." And it's vital that vigilance be a schoolwide activity. "Teachers, paraprofessionals and nurses were included in the pilot for this training and in guiding me into what should be included," she says. "Paras often are much more one-on-one with students, and that's why they can be key" to this response.
Administrators and educators alike look to Al-Hayani as a resource on the topic. Working through the Lucas County Human Trafficking Coalition, she is now in charge of the school portion of the coalition's response for Northwest Ohio. The coalition and Lucas County Children's Services has asked the Toledo union to partner with them in creating student and parent training on the topic.
And among the supports that helped Al-Hayani pursue this work was her participation in the AFT Teacher Leaders Program, which brings together a select group of teachers throughout the school year to learn how to take active leadership roles in their schools, unions and communities. The program continues to support the work today: Al-Hayani has partnered with Angela McClue, a district art teacher who also is participating in the AFT program, to extend the reach of this work, boosting understanding of the problem through school awareness posters.
"The Teacher Leaders Program taught me how to look at social justice issues and figure out a way that teachers can work with the community" to address and solve problems, Al-Hayani says. "These are our communities, our schools, and the Teacher Leaders Program encourages you to formulate plans and make the type of connections that make things happen."
[Mike Rose/photo by Madalyn Ruggiero]