Missing and Exploited Children

Adopted March 1986 – Reviewed and deemed relevant May 2016 – Revised February 2021 – Health & Community Concerns Commission

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, every year, millions of men, women, and children are trafficked in countries around the world, including the United States. It is estimated that human trafficking is a $32 billion per year industry, second only to drug trafficking as the most profitable form of transnational crime.

Human trafficking is a hidden crime, as victims rarely come forward to seek help because of language barriers, fear of the traffickers, and/or fear of law enforcement.  Traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to lure their victims and force them into labor or commercial sexual exploitation. They look for people who are vulnerable for a variety of reasons, including economic hardship, natural disasters, or political instability. The trauma can be so great that many may not identify themselves as victims or ask for help, even in highly public settings.

According to National PTA, at least 200,000 children across the United States are estimated to be victims of domestic trafficking.

As an advocate for children, California State PTA believes PTA has the responsibility to work with schools as well as social and government agencies to support:

  • The ongoing operation of a state clearinghouse to serve as a missing children information center that would tie into the National Crime Information Center;
  • The maintenance of the California Violent Crime Information Center to assist in the identification and the apprehension of persons responsible for the disappearance and exploitation of children, plus an automated computer system for response to reports of missing children;
  • Requiring local law enforcement agencies to make immediate assessment of steps needed to locate minors and, within 24 hours, file report(s) with clearinghouses and other agencies as may be appropriate;
  • Establishment of a statewide computer system to provide multi-jurisdictional coordination;
  • Programs to assist runaway and homeless youth and their families, including programs to temporarily provide safe shelters while families and/or appropriate agencies are contacted;
  • Legislation that would provide stringent punishment for murderers of children and for perpetrators of serious and repeated physical, mental and sexual abuse crimes against children;
  • Adequate funding for missing children programs and national missing and exploited children centers/clearinghouses;
  • Legislation to require that the school records of missing children who had been attending school are appropriately marked in case another school requests that child’s cumulative folder;
  • Establishment of uniform school district policies statewide that would require appropriate school personnel to immediately contact law enforcement when they believe a child to be missing and report any suspected missing child in attendance at school to law enforcement as is required in cases of suspected child abuse;
  • Encouraging elementary schools to offer age-appropriate child abduction prevention curriculum to children and to their parents;
  • The display of posters or pictures of currently missing children in an area accessible to school personnel only within each school;
  • Ensuring the reintegration of long-term missing children who have been located back into the school system; and
  • Legislation to secure the safety of the school facility.

Signs of human trafficking can be recognized by the following red flags:

Common Work and Living Conditions:

  • Is not free to leave or come and go as he/she wishes
  • Is in the commercial sex industry and has a pimp / manager
  • Is unpaid, paid very little, or paid only through tips
  • Works excessively long and/or unusual hours
  • Is not allowed breaks or suffers under unusual restrictions at work
  • Owes a large debt and is unable to pay it off
  • Was recruited through false promises concerning the nature and conditions of his/her work
  • Faces high security measures at work and/or living locations (e.g. opaque windows, boarded up windows, bars on windows, barbed wire, security cameras, etc.)

Poor Mental Health or Abnormal Behavior:

  • Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid
  • Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement
  • Avoids eye contact

Poor Physical Health:

  • Lacks medical care and/or is denied medical services by employer
  • Appears malnourished or shows signs of repeated exposure to harmful chemicals
  • Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture

Lack of Control:

  • Has few or no personal possessions
  • Is not in control of his/her own money, no financial records, or bank account
  • Is not in control of his/her own identification documents (ID or passport)
  • Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating)

California State PTA urges immediate reporting of potential child trafficking situations:

  • If a child is in urgent need of assistance, contact law enforcement or child protective services to report abuse, neglect, or exploitation of a child.
  • The Childhelp® National Child Abuse Hotline professional crisis counselors can connect a caller with a local number to report abuse. Contact Childhelp at 1.800.4.A.CHILD. (1.800.422.4453).
  • The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children® (NCMEC) aims to prevent child abduction and sexual exploitation; help find missing children; and assist victims of child abduction and sexual exploitation, their families, and the professionals who serve them. Contact NCMEC at 1.800.THE.LOST (1.800.843.5678) or report incidents at http://www.missingkids.org/gethelpnow/cybertipline
  • The National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) operates a hotline 24 hours a day, every day. The NHTRC will help callers identify and coordinate with local organizations that protect and serve victims of trafficking. Contact the NHTRC at 1.888.373.7888.
Print Friendly, PDF & Email