Today I did something scary. Actually, this is the second time in a couple weeks this has happened. I became that parent. But the reason I’ve become that parent is because advocating in my kids’s school is essential to trailblaze freedom and protect our kids from sexual exploitation.

Step One: The Field Trip

Last month my daughter went on her first full day field trip (7am-8pm) with a slew of kids and adults I’ve never met to Knotts Berry Farm. From my perspective of sex trafficking preventive work, this situation had a few holes and opportunities for exploitation to take place. I addressed them with the teacher, and whatever couldn’t be controlled by the school were things my daughter had been coached in by me. Unsurprisingly, the trip went great and I was thankful that I started talking about prevention from sexual abuse many years ago.

Step Two: Sex Ed

Because of some words/phrases the kids have been overheard saying at school, the school also decided it was about time to implement a series of sexual education classes. Personally, I felt like these are better conversations for kids to have with the parents, but I know from both experience and interviews, many parents won’t have them with their kids. Considering, it was almost exciting to have my daughter come home and feel like she could process her sex ed experiences with me, ask me more questions, and be a confident example in the class (rather than the panicked kid who didn’t know anything). Honestly, I was patting myself on the back.

Until this week. We spent over an hour processing her sexual education class, and it became obvious there were some problems I could overlook–but wasn’t sure I want to. I have been around trauma too much to want kids to live their lives with it. And the last thing I want is for any of those kids to be unprepared for the world of sex trafficking around them, whose cloying breath proves it lives and even thrives around us.

human trafficking trailblaze freedom

Trailblazing in My Circle of Influence

This year for the LBD.Project, I already decided to navigate my “path” of trailblazing by helping my kids live justly in response to human trafficking. Besides, I just asked everyone doing the LBD.Project to “maximize” their efforts for freedom and gave them the “circle of influence” exercise to help them see where they trailblaze freedom within.

It makes me feel anxious, because I don’t want to be that obnoxious, helicopter parent. I don’t know if I have enough rapport built with them yet for this letter to be received well. I want to be humble, even though I am also trying to give them a reason to listen to me.

But I know I can have influence at this school, even if we are new to it. I have a voice here, and they seem to be the type of school that will listen.

And so, because I have no more excuses and because I want to live a life that isn’t hypocritical in front of my LBD.Project trailblazers, I decided to say something. I wrote a letter to the school asking them to address some aspects that I believe will help these kids be empowered.

And only because I realize someday this is a way you too might trailblaze freedom, I included it here for you below:

My Letter to the School


First, I really appreciate that you are doing sex ed with the kids, that you have a doctor explaining things, that you are dividing the groups by sex to help the kids feel more comfortable at this age, and that you let us know what words/phrases were going around amongst the fifth graders so that we could talk with our kids about them. Although I searched my emails multiple times to find what you’d actually cover, it got lost amongst my emails and I missed the meeting. Thank you for sending the overview and encouraging conversations with our kids.

I also have some feedback that I feel will help make sex ed better for the kids/families all around in the future:

1.) I appreciate the talking points that was included in the file, but it would be super wonderful to have week-by-week talking points too, if that is something this doctor might be willing to make for the fifth grade parents for next year. I have no doubt this would help us have more intentional discussions with our kids (This is something I am passionate about–you can read by post about it in HuffPost here: Set the Stage to Talk With Your Kids About Sex When They Are Young).

2.) Last week, my daughter told me there were conversations about boundaries in speech/touch–including topics like rape and stripping. We ended up having a very long conversation when she got home about rape, porn, stripping and its relationship to sex trafficking (the latter being my expertise).

The stats for sex trafficking in San Diego have shown that of every middle school and high school that has been sampled (and among all demographics) sex trafficking is happening. I am connected to a lot of resources for sex trafficking prevention, have led trainings myself, and am connected to others who train. My understanding is that legally, CA schools are now supposed to provide training to prevent sex trafficking, and as such, I would be happy to talk with you guys about what might be a good fit at our school if you don’t have something in place already. I realize 5th grade seems young, but in middle school this discussion is pertinent.

3.) I was rather concerned when my daughter didn’t think that they were directed to do something if overstepping boundaries (like abuse or rape) happened to them. Even if the doctor did say what they should do, if it didn’t stick with daughter, then I am sure it didn’t stick with all the kids. Giving those who’ve been abused permission to speak, and clear, explicit next steps over and over, is essential if they are able to be brave enough to take that step.

It seemed like this might be an ideal time to have your counselor present, or at least have her introduced and instructions for how to find her and talk to her later.

Why do I feel so strongly about this? Partially, because one of my children was sexually exploited by an older child in a supposedly-to-be safe environment when they were younger and I’ve done a lot of lay-counseling with victims of abuse.

Also, a couple years ago I briefly sold an online course I was developing for parents to talk with their kids about modern slavery, sex trafficking, and how to give them tools to protect their kids from sexual exploitation. I am not a not a psychologist, but have worked within in the field of ending sex trafficking for almost ten years. Through my interviews and research, most agree that 1/5 kids have been sexually abused as children. Of course, there are nuances to that–like less boys vs. more girls, what age the exploitation happens by, under reporting, and how old a person has to be over a child to be considered abuse.

My point is, it is extremely likely there are multiple kids in these fifth grade classes who’ve already been sexually exploited (usually by someone they know) and this material is very triggering. Kids already have an extremely difficult time processing this type of trauma, and it often lays low for many years. But if it does come to the surface during sex ed, I think all of us would agree that having clear next steps for the kids to take is ideal.

Another reason I am writing this is because of the encouragement of the young woman who lives with me. She is in recovery under my care from an eating disorder (and more) largely because of the trauma she experienced when she was some months older than my daughter. As my daughter was talking to us about this week’s sex ed class, she was shocked and greatly upset to hear there was no counselor around while a conversation was happening about rape. She encouraged me to talk with you guys about this from her personal experience–because she was that kid, and she knows firsthand what it is like to be triggered by this type of conversation and feel unclear about what to do (she was asking me to say something from the experience of NOT having those clear, explicit next steps, and what it is like to hide it for another ten years until it almost destroys your life).

Again, I realize the doctor might have given a next step, but I am asking to please have her to make it extremely clear and explicit. In addition, even giving kids the space to talk about their feelings afterwards from all of these sex ed sessions might be valuable–even though it sounds like this might be intended in the question asking time (although I doubt trauma would come up in that situation).

I know this school really cares about these kids, and I am saying this just because the importance of these things can easily be lost in the shuffle if this isn’t something you have worked the quirks out in or had feedback from the perspective of those who’ve experienced abuse. Again, I hope you know I am not complaining, I am just hoping that your sex ed will have even greater results and provide better help for these kids.

Thanks for taking the time to read this insanely long email!

-Elisa Johnston

***Note: This letter was slightly changed for better readability or protection of mentioned parties***

Elisa Johnston advocating at her kids' school for sex ed.

Was Advocating at the School Worth It?

As I just sent this message, I am not really sure what the response will be, I am kicking myself, wondering if I should have requested a meeting with the principle instead, but, this type of advocacy is new to me. And, I also know it is our natural tendency to worry when we take a brave step!

My best case scenario would be that all the parents talk with their kids about sex, kids feel empowered to prevent exploitation, recieve sex trafficking prevention education, and those who have are already gone through stuff begin getting help. I will let you know!

In the meantime, here’s to maximizing my efforts to trailblaze freedom for a new generation!

What can you do to trailblaze freedom and do something about human trafficking? If you aren’t sure, start here with our Ten Simple Ways to Fight Human Trafficking guide.

Click here to get it!