Panel presentation will offer sex trafficking prevention tips to students

On Wednesday, May 31, 2017, the sex trafficking prevention nonprofit Nest will host a panel presentation for high school participants in Nest’s prevention curriculum pilot to discuss child sexual exploitation recognition and prevention with local experts and policymakers. The panel will offer a Q&A to the public and students will have the opportunity to present capstone work they have completed through the prevention curriculum.

Comprising the panel will be students from Madison, Cleveland, and David Douglas High Schools in Portland, members of Youth Ending Slavery, attorney and victim advocate Joel Shapiro, Portland State Assistant Professor in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Sri Craven, and Rep. Tawna Sanchez from District 43.

Also participating will be Traffic Intervention Coordinator for the Oregon Department of Justice Amanda Monaco and Supervisor of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Violent Crimes Against Children Program Denise Biehn. Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, a long-term sexual exploitation prevention advocate, will present opening remarks. Sen. Ron Wyden’s Field Rep. Grace Stratton  will speak on behalf of the Senator.

Libby Spears, a documentary filmmaker, founded Nest in 2004 while creating her documentary Playground, which tells the history of child sex trafficking in the U.S. After realizing sex trafficking was prevalent not just internationally but in “our own backyards,” said Nest Director of Programs Nishima Chudasama, her “work could not just end when the credits rolled.” Spears began hosting film screenings along with panel discussions that included legislators and teachers, much like this Wednesday’s event.

Spears’ found in Playground that 25 percent of people seeking sex with children are from America, and America is their number one destination. Chudasama said a lack of awareness around child sex trafficking here at home has been vast and evidenced by “a lack of resources, lack of specialized shelters with beds for kids rescued from or coming out of the sex trade, laws punishing people in sex trade—impacting young people in real and very harmful ways.”

One of Playground’s main storylines occurs in Portland and features scenes on 82nd Avenue, which is infamous for prostitution. After the film debuted, Nest approached two health teachers from Madison High School on NE 82nd to introduce sex trafficking awareness and prevention training to teachers.

“These teachers had heard some concerns from their students about walking down 82nd, so they were really responding to what they were hearing from students in the classroom about these things,” Chudasama said. “They took a chance on us.” Nest partnered with these teachers to introduce a recognition and prevention curriculum to Portland schools in 2015 and quickly began expanding training to teachers all over Portland.

The curriculum, which is amended based on teacher advice and survey response, Chudasama explained, teaches students about hypersexualization in pop culture, rape culture, and the ways in which boys are taught to think of girls in “hyper-masculinating” or “heterocentric” ways. “It’s about giving young people the capacity and critical thinking skills to start analyzing their environment more,” Chudasama added.

As funding grows, Chudasama hopes training will expand to younger ages. In the meantime, teachers have seen their students benefit from the program. Chudasama said one teacher reported that her Nest curriculum student realized last summer that her manager at a fast food restaurant job was attempting to traffic her. Because she was able to recognize that her boss was creating a “boyfriend experience” and “confusing love and relationships with his manipulation of her,” Chudasama explained, the high school student was able to pull herself out of a dangerous situation.

Wednesday’s panel presentation will not only showcase the success and progress of Portland’s Nest curriculum trial, but will take the perspectives of students, teachers, and policy makers to “engage in an authentic, honest, and candid conversation about what we can do to prevent child sex trafficking,” according to Chudasama.

Attendance is free to students and their guests, but a donation of $25 is requested of general public attendees. All guests must RSVP prior to the event. The event will go from 6–8 p.m. at the Ecotrust Building’s Billy Frank, Jr. Conference Center at 721 NW 9th Avenue, Portland, OR 97209.