The Issue

The Issue

Exploitation is the act of treating someone unfairly for personal gain or benefit. Exploitation can take many different forms. 

Here are the main types of exploitation to look out for:

Sexual Exploitation happens when a child or teenager is tricked, pressured, or forced into performing a sexual act for something in return.

Example: a new friend tells you they’ll buy you concert tickets if you send them nude photos.


Peer to Peer Exploitation happens when a young person is exploited by another person in the same age group.

Example: a friend or group of friends pressures you into performing a sexual act to gain their respect. You feel like if you don’t do it, they won’t want to hang out with you anymore.

Another example: a friend or peer starts to give you gifts, or starts showing off a new luxury lifestyle (expensive clothes, a new high-end phone, etc). This peer invites you and your friends to a party, where you are asked to exchange a sexual favor or try something in exchange for money. This peer may be trying to recruit you or target you for exploitation.


Online Exploitation happens when a young person is exploited through any online platform.

Example: a person you met in a gaming chat tells you they know a cheat code. They tell you that they’ll give it to you in exchange for naked photos.


Family-Supported Exploitation happens when exploitation is normalized, or accepted within your family. 

Example: you feel uncomfortable about a friend or partner pressuring you into a sexual act. When you tell a parent or relative, they shrug it off or act like this is normal.

Another example: you experience exploitation at the hands of a family member. You might not recognize it as exploitation right away because you have grown up with it. Or, you may have seen another family member being exploited to fill a basic need, such as food or shelter.


Partner Exploitation happens when someone you are dating uses love to force you into an exploitative situation.

Example: your partner tells you that “if you really loved them” you would do a certain sexual act.

Another example: you get into a relationship with someone who seems trustworthy. Early in the relationship, they showered you with gifts and affection. Suddenly, they tell you that everything you thought was given was not actually free, and now they expect payment. You may be forced to perform sexual acts as a form of payment, or in exchange for money to pay back your exploiter.


Survival exploitation is when you are in a situation where you have no other option but to exchange a sexual act in return for a basic need, such as food, shelter, or clothing.

Example: you are in a situation where your housing is uncertain. You may have been kicked out of your home, or find yourself couch surfing. Someone offers you housing in exchange for sexual favors. Even though you may know that this person is trying to exploit you, you feel you have no other choice but to agree to it. 


Sextortion often looks and feels like blackmail.  

Example: you send nude photos to one person, and they threaten to share those photos with other people unless you give them something, or do something for them.


Other definitions:

Gangs: youth associated with gang members can be forced into the sex trade and can later be used to recruit other youth for the gang.

Grooming is a process where someone does whatever they have to do to get you to trust them so they can exploit you. It can look like someone being extremely or overly affectionate with you or buying you lots of expensive gifts for no apparent reason. 

Recruitment is the process of targeting someone with the intention of exploiting them. 

What is Sexual Exploitation?

Sexual exploitation happens when someone is tricked or pressured into exchanging a sexual act for something in return. This could be a physical thing like food, housing, or clothing. It could also be something emotional like attention or affection.

Sexual exploitation is more common than you may think. It can happen to anyone, no matter their race, age, sex, or gender identity.

Sexual exploitation is illegal. If you are worried that something like this may be happening to you or to someone you care about, you can get help.

What Are the Signs to Watch Out For?

Sexual exploitation can happen online and in person.

Red Flags for Online Exploitation

Remember that anyone who you haven’t met in real life is a stranger, no matter how much time you spend talking to them.

You may think you know who someone is, but it’s easy to post fake or stolen photos and information online.

Exploiters also use programs to mask their true location when posting online.

Here are some red flags to look out for in interactions with online friends:

  • They ask you to do things that make you feel uncomfortable or unsafe
  • They won’t take “no” for an answer
  • They guilt-trip or threaten you
  • They give you online gifts such as cheat codes, admin codes, discount codes or gift cards
  • They ask you to switch platforms to keep talking (for example from a social media app to a messaging app like WhatsApp or Discord)
  • They ask you to meet in real life

If someone is doing any of the above to you, tell a trusted adult. This person may be trying to exploit you, or lure you into an unsafe situation.

Red Flags for In-Person Exploitation

Red flags for real-life relationships look a bit different than online. Here are some red flags for in-person interactions:

  • Age difference:  For example, someone who is much older than you expressing interest in dating you or becoming friends with you (if you are a teen, this could be someone in their 20s)

  • Guilt-tripping or threatening:  For example, a partner making you feel bad or guilty for spending time away from them or with other people.

  • Gifting:  someone buying you a lot of gifts, especially expensive gifts, for “no reason” (i.e., not for a special occasion). It’s important to trust your own feelings.

  • Lifestyle changes:  For example, a new friend trying to stop you from spending time with friends or family, and/or someone pressuring you to change your schedule or the things you do such as asking you to skip school or stay out later than normal to spend time with them.

As with online exploitation, if someone is doing any of the above to you, tell a trusted adult. This person may be trying to exploit you, or lure you into an unsafe situation.

Remember…

Though you may have a better idea of who you’re talking to in person, many young people are exploited by people they know.

Examples of sexual exploitation

  • Someone you’re dating starts asking you to skip school or stay out late just to see them. They invite you to parties where you don’t know anyone else, or they ask you to spend time hanging out with their friends more than your own friends.

  • Your friend starts showing up to school wearing very expensive clothes, or with lots of new and expensive stuff every week. You know that they can’t afford all this on their own.

  • Your friend starts dating someone older than them. They start acting secretive about who they’re hanging out with, or what they’re doing after school. You notice them skipping class or being absent more often.

All of these scenarios could mean that you or a friend is being sexually exploited. If you notice any of the above happening, or if you notice red flags in an online or in-person interaction, get help. Let a trusted adult know.

Get Help

Contact us at our confidential text line (604) 866-6779 any time. We will get back to you during our office hours, Monday to Friday, 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1.


About Children of the Street

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.

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