New Jersey has created a new curriculum to ensure that students are properly educated and equipped with knowledge about “health and physical literacy” and to help them “pursue a life of wellness.” The curriculum, which was passed in June 2020, is 66 pages in length and includes comprehensive health and physical education learning standards for all New Jersey public schools. The plan outlines what a 2nd, 5th, 8th, and 12th grader should know in regards to topics such as puberty, social and sexual health, pregnancy, emotional health, and lifelong fitness.
By the end of 2nd grade, children are taught the medically correct terminology for body parts, as well as how those body parts work to maintain a person’s wellness. Included in the 2nd grade curriculum is defining bodily autonomy and how to identify behaviors that would be considered child abuse.
The topic of human trafficking is covered beginning when children are in 8th grade. Children learn how to “assess the degree of risk” and identify strategies to reduce danger and injury to themselves and others. This includes education on digital safety, sexting, dating/domestic violence, human trafficking, and non-consensual sexual encounters. The curriculum in this section focuses on the core idea of awareness of risk factors, and the ability to evaluate choices and consequences; aiming to reduce the negative impact on children when they are faced with unsafe or difficult situations. Children in middle school are taught about the strategies that sex traffickers use to recruit youth. By the 12th grade, students will have a comprehensive understanding of how traffickers exploit children and the tactics that traffickers use to achieve their goals.
The curriculum requires that there is a “Sex Abuse and Assault Awareness and Prevention Program” which allows for age-appropriate education on the recognition and prevention of sex abuse and sexual assault starting in preschool. Additionally, there are required programs on consent and the social, emotional, and legal consequences of sexting. The Consent Program will ensure that children starting from grade 6 are educated on consent before physical and sexual contact.
While some parents are concerned about schools teaching their children sensitive topics, parents are allowed to opt their children out of this new curriculum if they deem the topic too sensitive.
The CSE Institute applauds New Jersey for its steps to ensure education relating to boundary setting and identifying signs of child abuse at a younger age. Children can be susceptible to trafficking at young ages before traditional curriculums would introduce them to the skills necessary to recognize the common tactics that traffickers use to prey on children. Education at a young age is an important and necessary step to combatting commercial sexual exploitation. The CSE Institute encourages parents to allow their children to benefit from the robust and necessary education Finally, the CSE Institute encourages other states to adopt a comprehensive education program that includes education about sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation.