Identifying and training kids at risk of human trafficking in DC

WASHINGTON — Children who have been abused, abandoned or left vulnerable by their family situation are at the highest risk to become victims of human trafficking, experts say. And the District is determined to identify them before they’re lost.

“Kids in the justice system or foster care system are very disproportionately at risk for trafficking compared with the general population of children,” said Rob Marus, in the Office of the District’s Attorney General.

Two lawyers in the office are now working solely to identify kids who may be at risk through their cases in the justice and family services systems, he said.

“They work with colleagues in other branches of government with D.C. police, schools and others, to review cases on a regular basis to identify potential signs of trafficking and connect those kids to what they need to get through,” Marus said.

They are also training kids as early as middle school to recognize the signs of human trafficking and how to protect themselves.

Attorney General Karl Racine joined teachers and students at McKinley Middle School on Jan. 11 to train kids on recognizing the warning signs. The event was live-streamed to the School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens Education Campus, Johnson Middle School and H.D. Woodson High School.

“We want to bust through any misconceptions that kids, or adults who take care of them, have about what trafficking looks like,” Marus said.

The training is also open to caregivers and parents to recognize signs that kids could be under the influence of someone grooming them for illicit purposes.

“Kids can be vulnerable to it because they think someone actually cares about them — someone who they think of as a boyfriend, or an authority figure who they trust, can lead them into trafficking before they know what’s going on,” he said.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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