Max Christensen, head of school transportation services for the Iowa Department of Education, has been recognized for his efforts against human trafficking of children.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Iowa Network Against Human Trafficking and Slavery awarded Christensen the Outstanding Anti-Trafficking Service Award.
In 2018, Christensen led Iowa to become the first state in the nation to develop mandatory anti-human trafficking for its school bus drivers.
“Max Christensen’s contribution to Iowa’s fight against human trafficking is truly outstanding,” said George Belitsos, chair of the Iowa Network Against Human Trafficking and Slavery. “In fall of 2018, Iowa became the nation’s first state to require training about human trafficking for its school bus drivers. Despite the disruption of the COVID pandemic, all 9,000 Iowa school bus drivers are now trained. The Iowa Department of Education and its School Transportation Services Department deserve recognition for moving this human trafficking training requirement forward.”
Drivers receive a one-sheet about human trafficking, described as “the exploitation of human beings through force, fraud, or coercion for the purposes of commercial sex or forced labor.” An estimated 40 million victims are trafficked globally, including many school-age children in North America. According to an Iowa DOE article, the convenience of two major interstate highways (80 and 35) makes Des Moines “one of the highest human trafficking areas in the nation.”
“While all children are vulnerable to the manipulative and forceful methods pimps/traffickers use, children in foster care, the homeless, LGBTQ, or those who come from abusive homes are particularly susceptible,” states the flier for Busing on the Lookout (BOTL).
School bus drivers are urged to watch for red flags, such as:
- Frequent absences
- Symptoms of irritability or panic
- Inappropriate dress for weather or school
- Bruising or physical trauma
- Markings or tattoos
“It’s been a real honor to be recognized for the work we’ve done to bring this terrible crime to the attention of so many people here in Iowa,” Christensen told School Bus Fleet. “Due to the way our training is structured, we were able to get all of our school bus drivers (both legacy and new) trained within one year of beginning this program back in the fall of 2018. We continue to train our new drivers on how to recognize the signs of human trafficking, which guarantees that we maintain 100% of our drivers being trained. Iowa was the first state in the nation to accomplish this, but we are no longer the only state, as other states have followed our lead.”
The training’s important, Christensen said, because adults are supposed to protect children.
“Unfortunately, there are some adults who would prefer to exploit and profit from our kids rather than protect them,” he said. “With this training, we have the eyes and ears of over 9,000 school bus drivers who come into contact with over half our students every day, monitoring any changes in personality of their student passengers. While most changes will not be due to a child being trafficked, some may, and our drivers can now recognize those signs.”
Need help? Contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.