New brochure offers guidance about sex trafficking, exploitation of children receiving special education services

ASU Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research began distributing information this summer to parents, educators and support staff

August 8, 2022

A new brochure from an Arizona State University research center is designed to increase awareness of the particular vulnerability to sex trafficking of children receiving special education services.

ASU’s Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research (STIR), based in the School of Social Work, began distributing the eight-page brochure in July to thousands of recipients, including members of the national special education community. This includes schools, educators, parents, supporters and legislators, said Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, STIR director and School of Social Work associate professor. child, lost, photo illustration, nicholas kwok, unsplash Photo illustration by Nicholas Kwok/Unsplash Download Full Image

Very little research has been published regarding the susceptibility of such children to sex trafficking, said Roe-Sepowitz, who said as far as she is aware, the brochure uniquely deals with the topic.

Information in the brochure is designed to help educators and families of children with special learning needs to both discuss and look out for this issue, she said. School personnel, including teachers, bus drivers, nurses, counselors, principals, social workers and psychologists often are in a position to identify warning signs, such as changes in behavior and clothing, and to report potential problems.

STIR research this year found 1 in 5 sex-trafficked individuals are identified as being in a special education classroom at some point, “due to various challenges, like a cognitive or physical disability, foreign national status, and/or moving schools multiple times. This indicates that youth receiving special education services are at incredible risk for being targeted by sex traffickers,” the brochure states.

Students in special education are particularly vulnerable to becoming victims, according to the brochure, because many adults, caregivers, law enforcement and the public in general hold the incorrect view that special education students have less social awareness and are seen as not being sexually active.

“These students are also regarded as not being credible or accurate reporters of personal events,” the brochure states. “Traffickers are more likely to exploit students with disabilities due to these systemic stereotypes and fulfill the students’ needs for acceptance, inclusion and romantic love.”

The brochure includes many strong protective factors against sex-trafficking victimization for educators, families and caregivers to use to help provide a safer and more stable environment. These include creating family stability, social support networks, school and community connectedness, positive peer support, future goals, limited drug and alcohol exposure, understanding of healthy relationship boundaries, targeted lessons on sex trafficking and exploitation, and ongoing opportunities to practice skills taught in lessons.

STIR has distributed a similar brochure regarding children in child-welfare situations, but the latest one is specific to special-needs youth, Roe-Sepowitz said.

“This brochure helps illustrate the connection and vulnerabilities, and gives some tools about how to educate families and others who work with children with special learning needs,” she said. “We have shared it all over the country to school systems, Adult Protective and Child Protective services, special educators and service providers.”

The brochure, available on the STIR website, includes warning signs and indicators of sex trafficking, tips on understanding the mindset of a victim and common terminology traffickers use, as well as next steps for schools and educators to identify and prevent trafficking.

Roe-Sepowitz said those who visit the site may print the brochure and post it on their own websites. Anyone with questions can write to Roe-Sepowitz at

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


Hugh Downs School of Human Communication welcomes new faculty member

August 8, 2022

This fall semester, the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication at Arizona State University welcomes new tenure-track faculty member Jenna Hanchey as an assistant professor of communication.

Hanchey, who comes to ASU from the University of Nevada, Reno, specializes in decolonial intersections of rhetoric, African communication studies and critical development studies. Portrait of ASU Assistant Professor Jenna Hanchey. Assistant Professor Jenna Hanchey specializes in decolonial intersections of rhetoric, African communication studies and critical development studies. Download Full Image

Here, she shares more about what she hopes to contribute to the Hugh Downs School, what she hopes to impart on her students and what gets her creative juices flowing.

Question: Why did you want to come to ASU and what do you hope to add to the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication (HDSHC)?  

Answer: I’m thrilled to join the faculty at ASU for multiple reasons! For one, my previous program only had an MA program at the graduate level. While I loved the master’s students that I got to work with there, I’m really looking forward to the chance to work with doctoral students here at the HDSHC. The students here are doing cutting-edge interdisciplinary and intersectional work, and I’m excited to be able to support their projects. Their work is indicative of a second reason I’m glad to be at ASU: the opportunities for interdisciplinary research here. As a scholar who cross-cuts multiple fields both within and outside of the discipline, I’m looking forward to doing work that addresses pressing social problems without having to worry about containing them within a predetermined box.

In that vein, I’m hoping to add to emerging conversations around decoloniality and decolonization, African communication studies, fictocriticism, speculative writing and the liberatory imagination.

Q: Why did you become an educator?  

A: I’ve always loved collaborating with others to better understand the world and wanted the chance to cultivate spaces where that can be done in meaningful ways. Honestly, the desire to be a teacher probably started in third grade when I got detention for the first time because I tried to help the person next to me with his spelling test. I didn’t realize that would be labeled “cheating” — I thought it was just helping him to understand!

That memory has stuck with me because it exemplifies how I think of knowledge: not as something that someone “masters” or “has,” like it can be owned, but something we can create together. In my classes, I try to provide a context where we can ask difficult questions about the world, reflect on our experiences and ways of knowing, and make decisions about what we want to keep or leave behind as we move forward.

Q: What led you to your field?  

A: I initially started out in particle physics and became a high school physics teacher. But after teaching in Tanzania as a Peace Corps volunteer for over two years, I came back to the U.S. with a deep discomfort about what I’d just been a part of. Teaching in a school that otherwise wouldn’t have had a physics teacher? OK. Doing women’s empowerment work for Tanzanian high schoolers? Ummm … less OK. I decided to go to grad school for communication because I thought it could help me answer a burning question: What made me think as a young, white Western woman that I had something to teach about empowerment to people in a completely different cultural and environmental context?

One of the major parts of the answer, I discovered, was neocolonialism. Since then, I’ve investigated neocolonialism in aid and development initiatives in Africa, bringing together research in critical/cultural studies, rhetoric, organizational communication and intercultural communication.

Q: What is your current research focus? 

A: I have two big projects on the table at the moment. The first is a book entitled “The Center Cannot Hold: Decolonial Potential in the Collapse of a Tanzanian NGO.” This book examines the relationships between Westerners and Tanzanians at a small, internationally funded NGO in rural Tanzania. In the book I make the argument that two “centers” often assumed to be worth maintaining — Western subjectivities and NGOs — need to be allowed to fall apart in order for decolonial potential to emerge. “The Center Cannot Hold” is forthcoming in fall 2023 from Duke University Press.

My second book project, which I’m currently working on, is tentatively titled “Africanfuturism: Beyond Development.” In it, I turn from critiquing how Western logics of development uphold neocolonial power relations to examining how Africans imagine their own futures beyond and against Western developmental logics. I analyze the vibrant and growing body of Africanfuturist fiction and film to demonstrate how African artists rethink aid, technology, time, environment and the human. I received an NEH Summer Stipend to develop the project in 2022.

Q: What do you want every student to learn?  

A: How to be reflexive. Reflexivity is integral to living in ways that respect our relations to each other and the natural world, and to understanding the way power operates in our lives and those of others. Reflexivity is a continual praxis of understanding how we are conditioned by power, and how that affects the ways we understand and interact in the world. As there’s no getting out of power, reflexivity is never finished. Instead, we must continue to learn to ask difficult questions about our relations, be willing to face the answers we find, and use them to change our thoughts and actions. If I can teach students to think deeply about how they understand the world and act within it, and encourage them to continually make their relations with the world and others more just, I know that they will be prepared to deal with any number of communicative problems in thoughtful and coalitional ways.

Q: What do few people know about you?  

A: In addition to being a professor, I’m an all-around creative. I write speculative fiction, narrate audiobooks, sing, act, paint, take photographs, make wrapped-copper jewelry and experiment with folded-book art. My published speculative fiction and some of my photographs can be found on my website ( If you’re lucky, you can catch me singing at karaoke, but my paintings stay within the bounds of my apartment!

Manager, Marketing and Communication, Hugh Downs School of Human Communication