Traffickers take advantage of vulnerabilities. In an ableist society in which disabled people are disregarded, ignored, and seen as valueless, there is no one more vulnerable. Physically, cognitively, and mentally disabled people are much more likely to be targeted by sex traffickers; and due to the lack of awareness and education of disabled youth, the traffickers, unfortunately, often succeed.

I am a disabled youth and also the youth advisor for PAVSA, or the Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault, in Duluth. Already, too few people know about sex trafficking, and even fewer know how it intersects with disability issues.

It is necessary for everyone to be educated about trafficking, because the simple act of knowing about it can prevent it from happening.

In Duluth, those in standard high school health classes receive comprehensive sex education, which includes lessons on trafficking. However, in Setting III special education at Duluth East, students receive “ability-appropriate” education, which does not include sex ed but only social skills in relation to personal and physical boundaries. In an ableist society in which disabled people are too often — and incorrectly — viewed as asexual people, many disabled students don’t receive this critically important education.

It’s proven that teaching youth about healthy relationships and ways to avoid physical and sexual dating violence and exploitation can reduce this violence by 60%, according to Just Say Yes, a nationally accredited education program.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two out of five female-identifying individuals who report being raped are disabled, and one out of four male-identifying individuals who report being raped are disabled. Children with disabilities are three times as likely to be victims of sexual violence than those without, according to the United Nations.

Education is not a fix-all, and, unfortunately, bad people still exist in the world. But receiving a comprehensive sex education can stop most violence before it occurs.

I hope you will join me in fighting for comprehensive sex education for everyone.

Izzy Laderman of Duluth is the youth advisor to PAVSA, or the Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault. She wrote this for the News Tribune in recognition of January as Human Trafficking Prevention Month.