Ontario school board mulls anti-sex-trafficking curriculum for young teens

An Ontario school board is reviewing a new curriculum that would teach Grade 7 and 8 students how to avoid being trafficked for sex. 

Common age of entry into sex trafficking is 12 to 14, sexual assault centre says

The curriculum is aimed at students between the ages of 12 and 14, but could be adapted for older or younger audiences, according to TK Pritchard.

An Ontario school board is reviewing a new curriculum that would teach Grade 7 and 8 students how to avoid being trafficked for sex. 

The lesson plans are aimed at kids around the age of 13 — when experts say young people become targets of sex traffickers.

TK Pritchard developed the curriculum at the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region after being approached by teachers who were looking for teaching resources on the subject.

He said the common "age of entrance" to trafficking is between 12 and 14.

"Traffickers will look online and see if someone's had an argument with their parents ... message them and start being really kind to them," Pritchard said.

Although trafficking can happen to anyone, Pritchard said traffickers tend to look for vulnerable victims, and use those vulnerabilities to make an initial connection — and later, exploit them.

Traffickers are typically young, but older than their victims, Pritchard said.

Often, they fall into the category of "Romeo pimps" — young, charismatic men who pose as a someone who is interested in dating the victim.

They then pose as the victim's boyfriend and gain the love and trust of the victim only to use it to manipulate them into having sex with people for money.

"Waterloo region is a hotbed for human trafficking," said Pritchard. "It's really important that young people are able to have that information and know that it's an issue."

A spokesperson for the Waterloo Region District School Board said the board will soon make a decision on if the curriculum will be taught in its schools.

The board must decide whether the anti-human trafficking curriculum is age appropriate and whether it aligns with the curriculum set out by the Ministry of Education.

Meetings to begin those discussions will start in October, the spokesperson said.

"At this point a lot of curriculums seem to use information from the States," said Pritchard, adding this is a formal lesson plan not just information available online. "I do know that our curriculum is made with Canadian information and it is using data that's local particularly for our community."

So far in 2019, officers with the Waterloo Regional Police Service human trafficking unit have been involved in more than 75 trafficking investigations.

Police say they believe more trafficking may be happening but going unreported, due to intimidation tactics used by traffickers.

Covers vulnerability, consent

The curriculum is divided into four parts, covering lessons on vulnerability, consent and social media safety, as well as unhealthy relationships.

Lessons include scenarios and examples of human trafficking.

"There's a lot of online trainings about human trafficking, but this one is fully just activity-based, engaging, made-for-educators to be able to read quickly [and] have the information that they need and do this [and] do the activities with their students," said Pritchard.

The idea is for kids to walk away with a clear understanding of how to distinguish a healthy relationship from an unhealthy one — information that's helpful regardless of whether trafficking is happening, Pritchard said.

"It allows them to work through a variety of issues, understanding what we can do to build safer communities and also help our peers if we're worried about them," he said.

(Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

Scenarios include forced tattoos

One activity has students identify whether a relationship scenario is unhealthy, healthy or neutral.

Some scenarios — such as a partner forcing them to get a tattoo — are very clearly signs of trafficking.

"[That's] something we know — it can happen within trafficking sometimes," said Pritchard. The lesson plan explains the tattoos are a form of "branding" to show which pimp someone belongs to.

Other scenarios include a partner saying they can't go to parties alone, which could be a sign of an unhealthy relationship, or it could be a sign of trafficking, Pritchard said.

For students whose only point of reference for trafficking are in TV and the movies, Pritchard said talking through these scenarios helps them wrap their head around what it might look like in real life.

"They might be able to relate a little more to some of the other behaviours or have seen them before where someone else is being controlling or abusive in other ways," he said.

Joy Smith, a former Conservative MP who runs an organization in her name dedicated to fighting human trafficking, echoed Pritchard's comments about kids between 12 and 14 being most vulnerable to trafficking.

She said it's important to get education about trafficking in schools — and the earlier, the better.

"Education is our greatest weapon now against this horrific crime," said Smith. 

"I am so happy when I hear people being proactive, so happy when they're trying to get that education out there."

For now, Pritchard said his aim is to get the curriculum in the hands of local teachers and students, but said he would be willing to share it with schools across the province or country in the future.

"[The curriculum] would be easily adaptable to other communities, so we're very happy as we see what this year looks like to then share it beyond," said Pritchard.

An image from RESET: Recognizing Exploitation, a Syllabus to End Trafficking. In this teaching scenario, a partner dictating what to wear is a sign of an unhealthy relationship that could also point to trafficking. (Submitted by TK Pritchard)


  • An earlier version of this story indicated a spokesperson for the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region used the word "average" to describe the age at which victims are commonly targeted by traffickers. This story has been modified to indicate that this is the common age that victims become the target of traffickers.
    Sep 10, 2019 10:12 AM ET