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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

child, lost, photo illustration, nicholas kwok, unsplash

Photo illustration by Nicholas Kwok/Unsplash

August 08, 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.

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

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