the issue

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for parents and for youth

what is sexual exploitation?


Sexual exploitation and human trafficking is the sexual abuse of minors and involves the youth being manipulated into exchanging a sexual act for money, drugs, shelter, food, transportation, love, acceptance or any other considerations. Victims can be of any age, gender, sexual orientation, income, geographic location or religion. Exploiters prey on the vulnerability of young people to exploit them.


Some common types of exploitation include:

- Sex trafficking (street-visible forced prostitution)

- Child sexual abuse images and videos/sexting (child pornography)

- Relationship-based exploitation (family, peer-to-peer, etc.)

- Sextortion (blackmailing)

- Gang involved exploitation

- Webcam hacking

- Survival-based exploitation (gay-for-pay, etc.)

- Traditional indoor venues (strip clubs, massage parlours, brothels, etc.)


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, however, trafficking 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; however, in 2014, the RCMP Human Trafficking National Coordination Centre reported that 93% of Canada’s trafficking victims come from Canada.


Sexual exploitation and trafficking is an ongoing cycle of physical, emotional and psychological abuse. Exploiters take several months (sometimes years) to groom the youth before the exploitation begins. All forms of sexual exploitation and trafficking are illegal under the Criminal Code of Canada and should be reported immediately.


who are the victims?

Sexual exploitation can happen to anyone regardless of their age, ability, ethnicity, gender, religion, income, geographic location or sexual orientation. Sexual exploitation is not a female-specific issue as males are just as often victimized.


There is no single cause, however, there are some factors that may increase a young person’s risk of being sexually exploited or trafficked. Some of the risk factors include:

  • Low self-esteem/self-worth

  • Sexual, physical or emotional abuse

  • Lack of self-identity

  • Lack of belonging or acceptance with family/peer/school

  • Mental health issues

  • Drug and/or alcohol addiction


who are the exploiters?

The misconception is that exploiters are older males who look “creepy”. However, there is no stereotypical image of an exploiter, and interestingly enough, exploiters and traffickers are just as diverse as their victims. There have also been many cases of exploiters and traffickers that are females, as well as an increasing number of youth being exploited by their peers. Exploiters can be peers, predators, pimps, madames, gang members, recruiters and johns/janes.


how can sexual exploitation happen?


Sexual exploitation and trafficking can happen on the streets, indoors and online. Youth can be recruited in schools, malls, theatres, playgrounds, or anywhere youth hang out. There are many factors as to how and where it can happen.


Street level forced prostitution of minors 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:


  • Social media websites

  • Phone apps

  • Online games and game consoles (Xbox, Playstation, Wii, etc.)

  • Dating/companion websites

  • Chatrooms

  • Texting and image-sharing


why does sexual exploitation happen?


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 possibly the lack of life experience. Youth victims are often manipulated for months at a time by exploiters and traffickers.


They 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.).


All children and youth often reach a stage where they desire to belong and be accepted, 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 the youth may feel too 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, youth may feel more encouraged to disclose and may respond better when receiving help.

myths & misconceptions


Under the Criminal Code of Canada, it is illegal for any person to sexually exploit another person under the age of 18. 


A child can be a prostitute


The buying and selling of children and youth for sexual purposes is inherently abusive and exploitive and therefore children cannot be “prostitutes”.


Children and youth make an educated decision to sell sex


The act of exploitation is structured by the desires and fantasies of the “customer”, which are incongruent with the desires and sensitivities expressed by the victims.


Men have uncontrollable sexual urges and are entitled to sex


Sexually exploiting a child or youth is sexual abuse and is a crime in itself.


Prostitution is a deterrent to sexual crimes


Sexually exploited children and youth suffer pain, humiliation, degradation, and many other types of abuse at the hands of their exploiters.


Selling sex is an exciting and glamorous life


While some common denominators exist, there is no causative relationship between sexual exploitation and socioeconomic status.


Sexually exploited youth come from only certain socioeconomic groups



Here are a list of common terms used around child and youth sexual exploitation and human trafficking:


Boyfriending/Girlfriending - when an exploiter manipulates a youth into thinking they are in a relationship. It's a tactic used by many exploiters to win the trust of the youth.


Cappers - a person who takes screenshots of youth without their consent or knowledge


Gay for Pay - any straight male who performs sexual acts with other men for survival purposes


Grooming - tactics used to prepare a youth for exploitation (ex. gifting, complimenting, etc.)


High Track - a sex trade worker whose cost is more expensive; typically means they are younger


Johns/Janes -  a man (John) or a woman (Jane) who buys sex  


LG/LB - a term used in schools to refer to a "little girl" or "little boy" who is perceived to be promiscuous or a target for exploitation


LG Party - a party where older youth invite younger youth, or "LGs/LBs" to exchange sex acts for popularity, drugs, alcohol, or acceptance

Love Bombing - when an exploiter excessively compliments and shows affection to a youth to gain their love and trust


Low Track - a sex trade worker whose cost per sex act is lower due to appearance, age, addiction, etc.


Luring - when an exploiter tempts and manipulates a youth to meet up


Madame - a female pimp or a woman who manages a brothel


Sexting -  taking and sending explicit pictures, videos, texts and other graphic representations of sexual acts


Sextortion - when exploiters use images and videos to blackmail youth


Stroll - a set area where sex is sold


Sugar Daddy/Momma - an older person who provides a youth with money, necessities and gifts in exchange for sexual acts and for the youth to pose as their lover


Trick - refers to the sex trade worker or could also refer to the customers


Turning a Trick - performing a sexual act (e.g. she turned tricks for money)