Human Trafficking Prevention and Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Go Hand in Hand for One Miami Grantee

Two teen boys and teen girls sitting together on steps.

The PlanBe_ curriculum is a program of Trinity Church, a funded project of the Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB), Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program (APP). This grantee has brought APP programming to Miami and New York schools since 2006. In 2010, Crystal Agnew, the Deputy Director of the organization’s Peacemakers Family Center, noticed a major change take place in their community.

That was the year of the tragic and destructive earthquake in Haiti, which left thousands of youth and families suddenly homeless. Many Haitians ended up in Miami, including highly vulnerable youth without a safety net for support. With their close ties to the city’s youth population and their focus on sexual and relationship health, Agnew says that she and her colleagues were aware that human trafficking was “skyrocketing.”

“Our Executive Director met with another organization that does anti-trafficking work in Miami,” Agnew says. “That began our organization’s journey. We were providing APP programing, which includes health relationship topics, and we realized that there’s so much overlap in these issues.”

In the decade since, trafficking awareness and prevention have become fundamental to PlanBe_’s APP programming in Miami and New York. The programs’ evolving focus reveals the overlap between the two issues, and the role that APP providers can play as advocates.

Meeting the Need

PlanBe_ is the APP-focused component of Trinity Church, Inc., which holds FYSB grants for the Competitive Personal Responsibility Education Program (CPREP) and Sexual Risk Avoidance Education (SRAE) Program. Between New York and Miami, the organization serves thousands of at-risk young people and employs a staff of 30 who deliver their curriculum in elementary, middle, and high schools, as well as in foster care sites and juvenile justice settings.

Karen Johnson, LMHC, Trinity Church’s Case Management Supervisor, says that their trafficking prevention work is simply a logical response to their students’ stated needs.

“We provide need assessments in every classroom,” Johnson says. “The assessment allows us to see if youth have been abused or if they’re at risk of trafficking. Students may not even identify or see themselves as being ‘trafficked’; they think they’re getting gifts. But we show them, if this relationship is pressuring you into doing things you don’t want to do you really want to be in it?”

Johnson and her colleagues are aware that traffickers prey on at-risk youth, including migrants and potentially homeless young people. “Both our locations are on the coast, near I-95, with a lot of immigrant families,” says Agnew. “We have a large homeless and runaway and homeless youth population. Everyone’s a little more hyper-aware of the risk of trafficking for these youth.”

No Means No

Trinity Church’s staff has learned that APP providers are in a unique position to discuss human trafficking—with young people and with the community. Their message of autonomy, personal strength, and self-respect is applicable to many different situations. “No means no,” the common refrain, is relevant whether the threat is a pushy partner, peer, or an exploitative adult.

They have also found common cause with trafficking-specific organization like Kristi’s House, whose counselors come to speak during PlanBe_’s classroom sessions. “We have them come in to speak with those kids, tell them how to know if they’re being recruited,” says Johnson. “Students begin to say, ‘I think I’m being trafficked’.” Then we can start talking about their options.”

A holistic focus helps as well. “FYSB has really worked to change this conversation,” says Agnew. “They talk about it as a public health crisis, which it is. It isn’t only about individual kids being held as slaves, it folds into a number of other public health issues: pregnancy, reproductive health, suicide. Our kids struggle with depression and suicide because they’re in violent relationships. A lot of cyberbullying takes place because of exploitation.”

By weaving two seemingly distinct issues together, PlanBe_ helps young people—and their communities—think about personal safety and healthy relationships in a more comprehensive and coordinated way. At-risk youth are the primary beneficiaries of the unified orientation.