Atlanta Public Schools superintendent Meria Joel Carstarphen. (CASEY SYKES, CASEY.SYKES@AJC.COM)
Photo: Casey Sykes/Casey Sykes
Photo: Casey Sykes/Casey Sykes

Atlanta superintendent: Super Bowl to ‘super-size’ risk of child sex trafficking

As Atlanta readies for the Super Bowl, the school system is amping up efforts to train teachers and inform students about the risk of human trafficking

Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said students are in danger of being sexually exploited every day, and the Super Bowl is one more event that increases that risk. 

“These events … create horrible opportunities for traffickers, for commercial sex and human exploitation, and they certainly take advantage of vulnerable teens and children who go to our schools,” Carstarphen said. 

She and about a hundred APS administrators attended a Friday training session about human trafficking and how to spot signs that students are being harmed. Similar training sessions and awareness efforts are taking place in Atlanta schools, some of which are near Mercedes-Benz Stadium where the Super Bowl will be played Feb. 3. 

“We have schools all right up in there, and if they didn’t have enough drama in the regular day this is going to super-size their exposure,” Carstarphen said. 

Carstarphen said a study shows 90 percent of domestic minor sex-trafficking victims in Georgia were enrolled in school at the time of their exploitation. 

“So they were still doing their day job as a student, but were going through this. And, we need adults to be alert enough to ask the right questions, to be able identify kids in crisis and to ensure that they lean in when they have to,” she said. 

Signs that a student could be in trouble include physical indicators — such as marks on the body that could indicate the student has been abused or restrained and signs of having been deprived of food or sleep. 

Teachers, nurses, social workers and other school staff are also being told to remain vigilant for other signals that students could be in danger: If they they talk about traveling frequently to other cities, if their grades suddenly slip, if they show dramatic changes in behavior or how they dress, or even have new tattoos. 

Unexplained school absences, inattention, forgetfulness, exhaustion or hanging out with new friends can also be indicators of exploitation, said Dr. Jordan Greenbaum, who works with victims of child abuse as a physician with Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. 

The school board in December approved two new policies related to child trafficking. The new rules require all APS employees, contractors and volunteers to report instances of trafficking. They also authorize the superintendent to train employees about sex trafficking as well as offer counseling, health and social work services, and other support to students in need.

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