It’s no secret sexual exploitation exists in Edmonton.

When faced with a problem such as this, we often demand someone else be responsible. For example, “When are police going to stop the sex trade and human trafficking?” But perhaps a better question is, “What can I do to help?”

On April 19, the Sexual Exploitation Working Group (SEWG) held an event at MacEwan University. The SEWG is a collective of community partners, law enforcement, municipal and provincial governments, and REACH Edmonton. They aim to share information with the public, raise awareness and empower communities to address the issues, and identify and work with new partners and stakeholders.  

At the event, Staff Sgt. Dale Johnson from the Edmonton Police Service human trafficking and exploitation unit and Kate Quinn, director of Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation (CEASE) explained those who buy sex range across a broad spectrum of young to old and across cultures.

People buy sex for many reasons: anonymous sex, convenience and abundance, loneliness or stress, relationship problems, insecurity, low self-esteem, sexual addiction, use of alcohol or drugs, greed, or curiousity. As long as there are buyers, there will be those who traffick the sex trade workers.

Johnson and Quinn discussed the stages of sex buyers. The first-timers and casual buyers decide quickly when an opportunity arises. Others become regulars and Quinn said, “Some men even see themselves as being in romantic relationships. At the far end of the buying spectrum are the hobbyists. We cannot rule out some buyers are seeking children and may well fit the criteria of pedophiles and some are men with records of violence against women, seeking vulnerable women.”

Advocacy groups and police cannot know everything, especially when the rules change almost daily and with the Internet now a factor impacting where sex is bought. Sex trade workers and organized sex trafficking rings advertise online. When law enforcement seizes a website, other sites pop up to fill the void.

The Internet makes it possible for organizations to sell sex anywhere and facilitates opportunities for buyers to spend huge blocks of time reviewing sex trade workers on escort review boards.

Knowing the obstacles to stopping exploitation and the sheer prevalence of the problem makes it daunting to formulate workable solutions, but it is possible.

What’s important to remember is awareness is key to change, so that means first taking note of what is happening in your community.

Community members can help by observing strange activities in their neighbourhoods. For example, a closed-buyer network house existed in Edmonton’s west end. Women lured here were forced to sell sex.

Johnson said, “The highly invisible buyers of sex may only be discovered through neighbours observing. This is the role of citizens to report any such suspicious information to police for investigations.” If you see a high volume of traffic entering and exiting a house, take time to report it. Police will investigate.

Another solution is making people aware of the impact of sexual exploitation. Some community-minded people like Rebecca Lippiatt noted the abnormal traffic of johns cruising for sex trade workers and a preponderance of needles and condoms on the street, leftovers from the inextricably linked sex and drug trades. As explained further in this month’s john school article, she speaks about how the sex trade impacted her family and community.

And for those who buy sex, therapy is another option, particularly if they’ve bought sex continously. In this case, sex addiction therapists and sex therapists can help.

Additionally, the advocacy of grassroots community groups prompted city hall to make changes such as one-way traffic and concrete blockades to break the circling patterns.

It’s important for community members to join police in learning the new signs and symbols of sexual exploitation in residential communities. A simple phone call from the safety of your home may save a young person and stop a circle of exploitation.

It takes a village to raise a child. In this case, it takes a community to protect and rescue every victim possible. It will take every one of us to stop the sex trade.

Featured Image: Staff Sgt. Dale Johnson (left) and Kate Quinn (right) spoke during Sexual Exploitation Awareness Week. | Rusti Lehay