Bulldogs Learn How to Defend Students from Human Trafficking

Russ Tuttle of the Stop Trafficking Project leads staff through valuable training

Kearney, Mo., January 10, 2024: Team KSD is alert and ready to respond to signs of human trafficking thanks to their recent professional development.

Kearney School District staff members returned from their winter break and spent several hours learning how to help identify and prevent human trafficking and support victims during an all-district professional development session led by Russ Tuttle on Monday, Jan. 8 at Kearney High School.

Russ Tuttle

Mr. Tuttle is the President and Founder of the Stop Trafficking Project, an organization that uses communication, leadership, team development and compassion to combat domestic minor sex trafficking. He led the roughly 500 KSD employees through training that included the signs that a child is being trafficked, the scope of the problem, how to help protect students and the steps that need to be taken when a victim is identified.

One of the biggest mistakes made by responsible adults is believing that human trafficking can’t happen in their family or community, Tuttle said. In fact, traffickers target vulnerable suburban and rural communities.

Most people have a very narrow view of the problem based on the news and popular media, Tuttle explained. They believe that trafficking is most often committed by strangers in urban environments, which prevents them from seeing the dangers that exist closer to home.

“I want to expand your view of sex trafficking,” Tuttle said. “Sexual exploitation is often committed by family members in communities just like yours. The victims can be straight-A students who play three sports, participate in choir and band and are president of their FFA chapter. It only takes one mistake to make them vulnerable.”

Tuttle’s training centered on the fact that pre-teens and teenagers have immature brains, can often make impetuous decisions and have powerful digital tools that they carry around in the form of cell phones. These factors can combine with toxic long-term consequences for victims who make one bad choice that pulls them into the grasp of traffickers.

Tuttle cited the real-life example of a pre-teen girl who was a standout softball player in her small-town Kansas school. Angry at her mother, she started sharing explicit images of herself online with a stranger. This eventually led to her lifelong struggle to free herself from a series of sex traffickers.

Openness and honesty are very powerful tools that can be used to both help prevent and address human trafficking, according to Tuttle. For a variety of reasons, children can hide behavior – like using social media apps to post explicit imagery – that exposes them to being exploited by traffickers. It’s the role of parents/guardians and other responsible adults to proactively teach children how to use devices safely and what to do when they feel unsafe.

“I’m not angry with kids and I’m not against technology,” Tuttle said. “My mission is to tell kids they don’t need to feel embarrassed, afraid or ashamed to talk to an adult.”

Jennifer Kopp

January is National Human Trafficking Prevention Month. KSD Assistant Superintendent for Academic Services Jennifer Kopp invited Tuttle to lead the all-staff professional development because Missouri is a hub of human trafficking and public educators have an opportunity to be part of the solution.

“Several factors make our area a prime location for human trafficking, including our geographic location and interstate system,” Mrs. Kopp said. “As educators, we have direct access to students and can be pivotal in helping to raise awareness with our students and families.”

KSD recently released the Qustodio Parents App and the KSD Online Safety Hub, two valuable tools designed to enhance online safety for students and provide parents/guardians with helpful insights into their children’s digital activities. Qustodio, powered by KSD’s content filter partner Linewize, is a powerful app designed to help parents/guardians monitor and manage their children’s digital activities on school devices. The KSD Online Safety Hub, also powered by Linewize, is a comprehensive resource that contains expert advice authored by leading safety professionals.

If you suspect someone is being forced to engage in any activity from which they can’t leave—whether it is commercial sex, housework, farm work or other activity—call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text BeFree (233733). Information is available online at humantraffickinghotline.org. If someone is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1.