[This post was part of an April Fools joke at Maggie McNeill’s blog.]
When a young 17 year old trafficking victim was discovered in a hotel in Valkenburg the Netherlands last fall, government officials and law enforcement authorities had to consider: how could this have happened right under our noses? The Netherlands in a major hub for human trafficking, as the country is located near the sea and has borders to various European countries such as Belgium and Germany. Major highways connect the cities, which are known to attract business men, and airports are located at both Amsterdam and Eindhoven. But a reason sex trafficking and modern slavery so often go unnoticed is because not all victims are bundled across borders in cars with tinted windows or shipped in containers. Sometimes they’re just hidden in plain sight, among other children and women, and are forced to serve Johns in their own bedroom or a hotel.
In an effort to fight this growing problem of prostitution of women and children, law enforcement and human trafficking experts are now working together with teachers to catch the earliest signs of child sex trafficking and mothers vulnerable to exploitations. “It is of the utmost importance that we intervene as earliest as possible” says Peter van Dam, coordinator of StopItNow and headmaster at Paarse Pollepel primary school. “Some children are trafficked as young as four years old, and we know from experience in the field that early intervention can prevent further trauma”. StopItNow is a collaboration between vice squads, the national coordination centre for human trafficking and the Teachers’ Union.
Teachers are now being trained to spot signs of trafficking, ask certain questions at parent-teacher-meetings and legislation is being proposed to make reporting of possible victims of child sex trafficking mandatory for all primary and secondary school teachers in the Netherlands. “You need to keep your eyes open” explains Peter van Dam. “For example if a child has a bruise, bullies others, isn’t happy to do its homework or if parents seem nervous talking to teachers, those are very clear signs something is up”. Van Dam isn’t worried that mandatory reporting might cause nervousness in parents; “if they’ve nothing to hide they’ve nothing to fear”.
“Kids as young as 5 years old are being raped daily, some estimates suggest up to one in twelve children could be victimised” warns van Dam. “First people have to decide they care about it,” he said in an interview. “Unless you acknowledge that it happens and are prepared to talk about it it’s not going to change. It all starts at the grass roots. We had 3,500 kids in primary schools in Amsterdam Sloterdijk alone, they’re a target for traffickers. It has to start from people understanding these aren’t kids in Africa. These are our kids.”