Sexual exploitation and human trafficking of children and youth is sexual abuse.
Sexual exploitation involves children/youth being manipulated into exchanging a sexual act for money, drugs, shelter, food, transportation, love, acceptance, or other needs. Victims can be of any age, gender, sexual orientation, income level, geographic location, or religion. Exploiters prey on the vulnerability of young people.
Some common types of exploitation include:
Human trafficking is very commonly confused with human smuggling and is thought to be an issue that happens only in developing countries.
Smuggling specifically involves the migration of humans across borders. Trafficking, however, is the control of a human for the purpose of exploiting them. While trafficking does not necessarily involve movement, many victims of trafficking are moved quite frequently.
Another common misconception is that child/youth sexual exploitation and trafficking does not happen in Canada; the truth is that in 2014, the RCMP Human Trafficking National Coordination Centre reported that 93% of Canada’s trafficking victims come from Canada.
Sexual exploitation and trafficking are an ongoing cycle of physical, emotional, psychological and sexual abuse. Exploiters take several months (sometimes years) to groom the young person before the exploitation begins.
All forms of sexual exploitation and trafficking are illegal under the Criminal Code of Canada and should be reported immediately
Sexual exploitation can happen to anyone regardless of their age, ability, ethnicity, gender, religion, income level, geographic location, or sexual orientation.
The majority of the victims are women and girls, men and boys can be victims too.
There is no single cause of sexual exploitation, however, there are some factors that increase a young person’s risk of being exploited or trafficked. These include:
The popular image of an exploiter is an older male who looks “creepy”. This often isn’t the case however: exploiters and traffickers are just as diverse as their victims. There have been many cases where the exploiters and traffickers are female, as well as an increasing number of youth being exploited by their peers. Exploiters can be peers, predators, pimps, madames, gang members, recruiters, or johns/janes.
Sexual exploitation and trafficking can happen on the street, indoors, and online. Youth can be recruited in schools, malls, theatres, playgrounds, or anywhere youth hang out. There are many factors that contribute to how and where exploitation happens.
Street-level forced ‘prostitution’ of young people typically occurs through some form of coercion, deception, or manipulation which can include forced drug debts, violence and threats to individual and their families, false promises or even “boyfriending”. There are also indoor venues in addition to street level exploitation such as strip clubs, massage parlours, brothels and bathhouses.
Due to advancements in technology, young people are much more susceptible to sexual exploitation and human trafficking than ever before. Here are some of the common ways through which youth can be sexually exploited online:
It’s important to keep in mind that sexual exploitation and trafficking is never the youth’s fault.
Exploiters and traffickers target youth because of their vulnerability and relative lack of life experience. Youth victims are often manipulated for months at a time by exploiters and traffickers.
Exploiters and traffickers use various tactics to gain the youth’s trust, which may include extra attention, love bombing, gifting, isolating youth from their friends/families, and introducing new or different experiences (partying, use of drugs/alcohol, etc.).
Children and youth often reach a stage where they desire belonging and acceptance from their peers, and are also sexually curious. These factors can increase their risk of being targeted by exploiters.
When supporting youth victims, remember that they are never at fault. Instances of exploitation are often not reported because youth feel embarrassed to come forward. They may feel it was their fault or they may feel that adults will not believe them. By showing empathy and being nonjudgmental, adults can encourage youth to feel safer about disclosing. Youth may respond better when receiving help from a nonjudgmental adult.
Children of the Street is dedicated to preventing the sexual exploitation and human trafficking of children and youth in British Columbia. We achieve this goal through education strategies, public awareness initiatives, and family support. Children of the Street is a program of PLEA Community Services Society of BC.
We acknowledge that we work, live and play on the unseeded territories of the Kwiketlem, Tseil-Waututh, Sto:lo and Qayqayt peoples.