a child acting fearful or withdrawn), exhibiting “inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under
normal circumstances” (compare with a child’s inappropriate sexual language or behavior, or
truancy issues), and demonstrating “[a] general pervasive mood of unhappiness of depression.”135
Reasonably diligent school staff would observe many, if not most, of these indicators in a
commercially sexually exploited child, underscoring the importance of the school as a screener
for potential trafficking.136 Further, educators are required by federal law to be on alert for
changes in behavior or behavioral problems in school, which indicate that a child might need to
be assessed for a disability.137
The obligation of schools to screen for CSEC, both from the guidance provided by the
U.S. Department of Education and as part of schools’ federal obligations under the IDEA,138
creates a companion mandate for special education attorneys to be vigilant in watching for the
signs of CSEC in their own case loads, particularly when a child is struggling in school and
exhibiting other warning signs of CSEC.139 While a special education attorney may not want to
share his or her concerns with the school, in an effort to protect the student’s privacy (and should
not do so without directly consulting with his or her client), a special education attorney is in an
ideal position to ring the alarm that CSEC should be considered as part of the child’s special
education eligibility process. The following section will address the types of school-based
services a child who has experienced CSEC may need after the child has been referred and found
eligible for special education and related services.
i. Children may develop special education needs as a result of having been commercially
While some commercially sexually exploited children may be eligible for special
education services before they are victimized, others may return to the school system with new or
more extensive special education needs that schools must address to provide students with the
mandated free and appropriate public education (“FAPE”).140 Immediate provision of services to
this population is imperative, because absent swift and appropriate action, a child’s recovery is
undermined and the child may be more vulnerable to repeated victimization or involvement with
commercial sexual exploitation.
135 See 34 C.F.R. § 300.8(c)(4)( i)(D); see also Los Angeles Unified Sch. Dist., 107 LRP 27850 (SEA CA 2007) (finding that a student
is not required to have a diagnosis of depression to be eligible under this criteria).
136 In highlighting the prime position of the front-line educator to screen for CSEC, it is not the opinion of the authors that the role of
the educator is to screen for CSEC and determine whether a child has been victimized or is at risk, just like it is not the role of an
educator alone to determine whether a child is eligible for special education and related services, as this is a determination based on
data collected by a full team, after an initial referral has been made. See 20 U.S.C.A. § 1414 (b)(2). However, since educators should,
under federal law, consider referring students with sudden mood changes or behavioral problems for evaluations, see 34 C.F.R. §
300.8 (c)(4)( i) (listing emotional disturbance as a disability entitling a child to an evaluation special education services), educators
could easily adopt the same practices in initiating referrals or raising concerns about CSEC, using the risk factors listed by the U.S.
Department of Education as guidance. See HUMAN TRAFFICKING, supra note 23. Once these students have been referred, they should
be thoroughly evaluated and then the student’s family and team can assess what services the student needs in and out of school and
whether or not the student is at risk for or has experienced CSEC.
137 See 34 C.F.R. § 300.111.
138 Id.; see HUMAN TRAFFICKING, supra note 23.
139 See PETER LEONE & LOIS WEINBERG, CTR. FOR JUVENILE JUSTICE REFORM, ADDRESSING THE UNMET EDUCATIONAL NEEDS OF
CHILDREN AND YOUTH IN THE JUVENILE JUSTICE AND CHILD WELFARE SYSTEMS 11, 48-49 (2010), available at
140 All students with disabilities are entitled to a free, appropriate, public education (“FAPE”), and more specifically, special
instruction designed to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability provided at no cost to the child’s parent or educational
decision maker. See 34 C.F.R. § 300.39(a)(1); Bd. of Educ. of Hendrick Hudson Cent. Sch. Dist. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 182 (1982).
In Rowley, which addressed a child’s right to services under the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (the precursor to the
IDEA), the Supreme Court held that FAPE mandates that school districts provide educational services tailored to the “unique needs”
of a child with a disability. Id. at 181. However, it only mandates that schools provide the “basic floor,” not the best education
possible. Id. at 201.