SHERIDAN — After dark Thursday, Dec. 30, 50 to 100 teens kicked off their shoes and laced up ice skates. Kids circled the rink on skates and played on-ice cornhole. Upbeat pop music blared. Nearby, someone warmed nacho cheese and stacked candy bars.

While a night of fun, Uprising’s teen skate night would further the organization’s human trafficking prevention and awareness goals by offering youth a safe place to hang out, Uprising Executive Director Terri Markham said. Although Uprising’s mission of raising awareness around human trafficking and a pleasant night of ice skating may seem disjointed, Markam said the two are more closely related than you might think.

Exploiters look for vulnerable people, and young people are particularly vulnerable, Markham explained. But youth can build resilience through contact with protective factors, or safe community spaces and people that could prevent or intervene in case of a crisis. Examples of protective factors include public libraries, community centers, volunteer opportunities and other safe, semi-public community spaces.

“Little things add up to keeping youth safer in [our] communities,” Markham said.

Safe events for teenagers — even one-night-only teen skate nights — are protective factors. They offer places for teens to gather and interact with their peers and trusted adults, Markham said.

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