- Image courtesy Safe House Project

Image courtesy Safe House Project

Trigger warning: While this blog provides information on helping to prevent and stop child trafficking, please be aware that it contains content that may be triggering or difficult for some to read.

I climbed up onto the bus and smiled my best smile at Mr. Jay. Mommy had pulled my hair into pigtails and my curls bounced as I made my way up the steps. Mr. Jay shooed a few boys out of the seat at the front of the bus and I took their place. He knew I liked to be close to the door.

Mr. Jay was always so kind to me. I wished I could tell him about all the bad things that were happening to me at home.

I rode the bus from my first day of kindergarten until middle school. Mr. Jay was there as I showed off my birthday girl pin. He was there as I struggled to get my solar system model through the doors. He was there to chuckle as I climbed onto the bus covered in mud after our spring play day. He called me ladybug and never made me feel scared or unsafe.

Mr. Jay was also there to pick me up for school the day after my uncle raped me for the first time. He was there to watch me freeze in panic when my uncle was there to get me off the bus.

He was there to save me a seat at the front of the bus so he could make sure no one messed with me as I passed out from exhaustion at 7:30 in the morning. Mr. Jay didn’t know what he was looking at, but he watched as I retreated into myself as my uncle trafficked me from first grade to fifth grade. He sold me for sex for hours at night and then I’d climb on Mr. Jay’s bus for a school day where I had to act normal and not tell anyone what was happening to me.

Mr. Jay, who had a heart of gold and a collection of cool hats, did not have the knowledge he needed to save my life. Mr. Jay, who called me ladybug, did not have the information he needed to call out what was happening to me. Mr. Jay, who always saved me a seat, could have saved me from years of violence and fear if he had only known what he was looking at and what to do about it.

Bus drivers come into contact with an array of children, from the small dirty child with unbrushed hair to the little girl with perfect pigtails and little pink Mary Janes. They become a familiar face, a friend. They may be the only adult in a child’s life who makes them feel safe, wanted, and loved. Just having the knowledge they need to spot, prevent, and report trafficking, bus drivers could save a child’s life.

Mr. Jay could have saved me, if he had only had the information he needed to see what was happening to me. Mr. Jay could have seen the signs I was exhibiting that pointed to something being wrong:

● Drastic, almost immediate change in a child’s personality or social skills.

● Fearful of an adult in their life.

● Child sleeping on the bus first thing in the morning or appearing exhausted.

● Bruises, cuts, or other marks that the child either will hide, refuse to explain, or have an excuse for every bruise and bump.

● Unexplained absences from a child who once rode the bus regularly.

Thankfully, Safe House Project, a national anti-trafficking organization, is prepared to equip bus drivers across the nation with that very information. To inquire about anti-trafficking training for you and your school district, email info@safehouseproject.org.

That little girl with the perfectly curled pigtails is depending on you.

Hope Doe is an author, advocate, and content creator. As a survivor of child sex trafficking, she has dedicated herself to eradicating human trafficking and is honored to serve as a content creator and survivor leader with Safe House Project.

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