“Knowledge Unfits a Child to Be a Slave”1
School-Based Human Trafficking Prevention and Intervention

By Debra Brown Steinberg, VS. Founder

“100,000 children [are] estimated to be in the sex trade in the United States each year.” (Polaris Project). “The average age at which girls first become victims of prostitution is 12 to 14;” “boys and transgender youth enter into prostitution between the ages of 11 and 13 on average.” (FBI, 2011). Schools are thus “well positioned to play a pivotal role in preventing, identifying, and addressing commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of minors.” (Institute of Medicine, 2013). Nevertheless, “most school districts lack an organized response,” and “the education sector’s current response to commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of minors is insufficient.” (Id.).

Recognizing that school settings are important prevention and early interdiction points for child sex trafficking, the City of New York, in partnership with Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives (FDFI), has taken the lead and “brought human trafficking education to New York City Public Schools.” (nyc.gov, Aug. 14, 2013). FDFI’s pioneering model, featured in the current issue of VS., pairs multi-sector training programs for educators with lesson plans that position contemporary human trafficking within the broader narrative of 19th century slavery and Abolitionism epitomized by Frederick Douglass. It presents a replicable model for enhancing the education sector's early prevention and interception responses to commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of minors. And, it affirms President Obama’s call to “renew our pledge to erase modern forms of slavery from the face of this earth” by “draw[ing] strength from the movements of the past.”

1 Frederick Douglass, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (Boston, 1892).


To Build Strong Children

Produced and Directed by Konstantinos Kambouroglou

Prevention of human trafficking through education is the core mission of Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives (FDFI), inspired by its namesake’s timeless call to action: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

Watch the VS. Film of students from Benedictine Academy (Elizabeth, N.J.) and I.S. 229 Roland Patterson School (Bronx, N.Y.) as they discuss, with FDFI Founder & President Kenneth Morris, human trafficking as a contemporary form of slavery and what motivated them to become modern Abolitionists.

View the Documentary


Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives

Watch the video of Kenneth B. Morris

Kenneth B. Morris, Jr., Founder & President of Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, discusses FDFI’s model for trafficking prevention and interception responses in school settings.

Benedictine Academy “Cor Defenders” (Defenders of the Heart) Student Leadership Group

Watch the video of Norma Abbene

Students featured in “To Build Strong Children” share what inspired them to stand against human trafficking.



Taro Yamasaki: Reflections

The images in Reflections, photographed by acclaimed photojournalist Taro Yamasaki at Frederick Douglass’ Cedar Hill residence and the Summer Home he designed, allude to the human chain that binds Frederick Douglass’ experience as an American slave, to the enslavement of contemporary victims of human trafficking, and to the intrepid abolitionist tradition that Douglass passed on to his great-great-grandson Kenneth Morris. Yamasaki’s photographs reverberate with associations between historical and modern slavery that universalize the slave experience and our shared responsibility for its abolition.

View the E-Exhibition


From Bondage to Freedom: An Imagined Dialogue on American Slavery Between Frederick Douglass and His 21st Century Counterpart

by Debra Steinberg and Rebecca Segall

Frederick Douglass, a self-emancipated 19th century American slave, who dedicated his life to “attack[ing] slavery in all its forms and aspects,” engages in a fictional dialogue with a modern-day victim of human trafficking.

A Reflection on the Plight of Survivors

by Tyanne Bryce, Benedictine Academy, Class of 2015

Tyanne Bryce voices the despair of a child taken and exploited, yearning for her freedom.

Domestic Human Trafficking In the News

We bring you curated national, regional, and local news, reports, and articles on domestic human trafficking and related topics.


VS. Resource Guide

This comprehensive compilation of resources, organized by audience and service type, assists all segments of the domestic anti-trafficking community, including public, nonprofit, academic, and private sectors, as well as victims and survivors of domestic human trafficking.

Search for Resources

VS. Library

This online archive, organized into reading rooms for the benefit of different segments of the anti-trafficking community, gives a synopsis of, and links to, curated research and source materials pertaining to human trafficking in America.


Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP

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