At Coolidge High in Washington, D.C., students spent a day of history class completing a decidedly unusual assignment: Provided with glitter, feathers and glue, they were instructed to create pictures of a prostitute and a pimp. That same day, they listened to and analyzed a 50 Cent track called "P-I-M-P," which celebrates the time-honored tradition of men luring women into sex work.
If you're wondering what this has to do with the Revolutionary War, Catherine the Great or pre-colonial Africa, the answer is, not much. The activities are part of a special program administered by the D.C. Human Trafficking Task Force, a group that devotes most of its time to combating overseas sex trafficking. Now in its second year, the program interrupts classes in six D.C.-area high schools (selected for their high rates of family and domestic violence) to educate students about the dangers of prostitution, trafficking and abusive relationships. Andrea Powell, executive director of FAIR Fund, the organization that created the curriculum, says that it seeks to "raise all these issues of teen violence, dating violence and homelessness ... One boy said he was hungry. All of these are risk factors for sexual exploitation." So far, it seems that the task force's efforts have been successful, with organizers receiving 56 notes from male and female students who needed help getting out of difficult -- and sometimes horrific -- relationships and home situations.
It's clear that this program is filling a huge gap in students' educations by giving them the information necessary to avoid all forms of sexual violence and exploitation. But a few things get to me about this story, too. For one thing, why do these already at-risk students have to give up history classes to participate in the program? Why isn't it already part of their regular health classes (you know, the ones that should also be teaching comprehensive sex ed)? And why weren't teachers and school administrators at these schools already working to ensure that students felt comfortable coming to them with personal problems? There's no doubt that the program is a step in the right direction, but we shouldn't forget that it's also a Band-Aid solution to the boatload of negligence that necessitated it.
UPDATE: FAIR Fund executive director Andrea Powell responds:
Our program Tell Your Friends, which goes into D.C. public high schools, is a program funded by the Yahoo Employee Foundation. [Broadsheet writer Judy Berman] attributes FAIR Fund's work to the DC Anti Trafficking Task Force, which is incorrect. FAIR Fund is an active and proud member of that DC Anti Trafficking Task Force, but we are not funded by them nor do they have any control over this program. FAIR Fund is a separate 501c3 agency with anti-trafficking programs for youth in five countries with a focus on sexual violence, labor trafficking, and exploitation.
Also, I would like to point out that while it may not appear our program has much to do with history, I believe it does. Our program discusses modern-day slavery. We work with each class across the six schools during four separate sessions and very clearly cover the connections between human trafficking, American slavery, poverty, discrimination, and sex trafficking. We also would truly love to see our curriculum be integrated into health classes. That is our ultimate goal. We are grateful that the D.C. public schools and their teachers have given us a space to reach their students.