Two potential human trafficking cases at Midway High School during the fall 2015 semester prompted administrators to set protocols to assist students who suspect or suffer from human trafficking.
Midway’s Community Liaison Hannah Abbe was recently named the human trafficking liaison, and students and staff are encouraged to notify her of any suspicions or difficulties they have. Abbe will then contact outside resources to help the individual.
“Trafficking happens in Waco, and whenever we see sex trafficking in particular it’s with minors, it’s with kids under the age of 18. So, obviously those are kids that are in our schools,” Abbe said.
California’s Department of Justice said human trafficking involves “controlling a person through force, fraud, or coercion to exploit the victim for forced labor, sexual exploitation or both.”
The coercion happens repeatedly, Abbe said, and money is often exchanged for services.
Students who could be victims of trafficking often display signs of abuse, such as fatigue and bruising.
But predators often target runaways, so students that have minimal contact with their families and spend time with men older than them could also be victims, Abbe said.
“When you see multiple factors coming into play at once is when you start becoming concerned,” she said.
Part of establishing the protocols in the district is educating faculty and staff and communicating with law enforcement about issues within the schools, Abbe said.
Midway officials realized the importance of having set procedures when two high school students showed signs of being victims of human trafficking.
Abbe said they wanted to ensure that any student at Midway had access to help if needed.
Abbe meets with other McLennan County school districts and law enforcement monthly at the Heart of Texas Human Trafficking Coalition education subcommittee to discuss ways of increasing awareness within schools.
This new awareness within schools follows a citywide trend to track and stop human trafficking related crimes.
McLennan County Sheriff’s department arrested 94 people as of November 2015 in stings performed in the past year where officers posed as underage children, Sheriff’s Capt. Bubba Collier said.
Faculty aren’t the only ones concerned about the student population.
A group of Midway High School students has decided to tackle educating their own demographic by forming a Midway branch of UnBound, a nonprofit advocacy group connected to Antioch Community Church committed to fighting human trafficking internationally.
Sisters Annie Griesemer and Molly Griesemer, along with their friends, Amanda Lapes and Tyler Phillips, were approved to form an official UnBound club at Midway High in December’s board of trustees meeting.
The girls attend Antioch or their parents are involved in UnBound in some way, but they wanted to do something to make an impact for their peers.
Annie Griesemer, a senior, started the group as a way to support the work UnBound is doing throughout the city and to educate students on how to spot signs of trafficking among their peers and how to stay safe.
“It’s a problem in our city and the community, and I wanted to be a part of the solution and see steps taken by students to eradicate it and to fight it,” Annie Griesemer said. “Our goal is for students to be aware, because that is a huge help in prevention.”
Students don’t have a good understanding of what human trafficking is, the girls said, and don’t realize their demographic is the most vulnerable.
The Midway group plans to submit information to be read during school announcements and to volunteer for UnBound’s Waco events.
Molly Griesemer, a sophomore, said a large part of preventing trafficking is connecting with people who seem isolated.
“This is happening to girls my age,” Molly Griesemer said. “I would never want that to happen to me, so I want to make sure it can’t happen to anybody else.”