The teenage years are difficult for both parents and teens. Teens are searching for a self-identity and more independence. Discovering who you are and what you like requires exploration. Conflict often occurs. Adolescence is also a vulnerable and risky time because a teenager’s brain isn’t fully developed.
In a healthy family, parents provide guidance and boundaries through this volatile period. Unfortunately, many families are dysfunctional. Sometimes parents are simply unaware of the issues and emotions their teens are facing. Or worse, teens may have already been subjected to abuse, addiction, trauma, and poverty.
All youth are at risk for sexual exploitation. This risk is higher for vulnerable or marginalized teens, especially when their situation is compounded by family conflict and poverty. Although it can happen to boys, the target for sexual exploitation is primarily girls. The average age girls are first exploited is 13 or 14.
Exploiters (aka pimps, recruiters) tell girls what they want to hear. Often an older man becomes her “boyfriend” and gives her the love and attention she is seeking along with gifts. The girl is lured away from family, friends, and home. If a girl is already on the streets, she is given safety, protection, housing, or drugs.
Soon the relationship turns to coercion and threats. The girl now owes her “boyfriend” and is forced to pay him back through stripping, pornography, or prostitution. The exploiter gains control through isolation, humiliation, and fear.
BRITTNEY’S STORY (ACT Alberta Case study)
I used to hate living at home. As a child, it seemed like my mom would bring home a different guy every week and some of them were awful to me. To make up for her boyfriends, she used to take my sister and me out for ice cream – I learned young that my affection was something that could be bought.
When I was about 14 I met Tyler online. He seemed nice and interesting. We met up at a park in the city and he became my boyfriend. It was great at first – being with Tyler made me feel less lonely and it gave me something to look forward to every day. His friends became my friends and I soon ran away from home to live with him. Tyler explained to me that I needed to start bringing in some money to help pay for the expenses. That’s when things changed. He started putting up ads for me on Backpage.com. He forced me to have sex with the guys who responded to the ad in hotels across the city.
Sometimes a teen girl will “chose” to start doing sexual favours in return for drugs, gifts, or money.
A local source shared a conversation she had with a junior high aged girl in our community about her prostitution activities. She asked the girl if she was afraid when she climbed into the car with a strange man. Her reply was, “No, my friend was with me. We only do what we want to do.” Sex trade veterans say they like to hold on to the perception that they have boundaries, but they have little control over what happens when they meet with a john.
It’s few if any people who willingingly choose to work in the sex trade over other viable options. They are doing what they need to survive and may also be feeding an addiction. In most cases, their thinking about themselves, relationships, and sex is distorted.
The source said she doesn’t know how else to help this girl, who spent time in a safe house but returned to prostitution. A girl who doesn’t care about herself, who has a drug habit, who is seduced by how quickly you can make money on the street.
This haunting quote is from a video included as part of The Globe and Mail article “The Trafficked: How sex trafficking works in Canada.”
“Nobody ever stopped to say, ‘Little girl, why aren’t you at home in bed?’ Nobody ever stopped to say ‘Are you OK?’ ” said Bridget Perrier, survivor of prostitution from age 12 to 22.
Staff Sgt. Dale Johnson of the Edmonton police vice unit says, “All adults involved in a child’s life have a role to play in identifying at-risk children and ensuring they receive help prior to that child falling further ‘into the life’. Alberta has unique legislation (Protection of Sexually Exploited Children Act) that puts the onus on adults to report suspected incidents.”
If you suspect someone is being exploited, please do something.
SEXUAL EXPLOITATION REPORTING & RESOURCES
- Edmonton Police Service – 780.423.4567
- Report-a-John – 780.421.2656
- Kids Help Phone – 1.800.668.6868
- Alberta Child Abuse Hotline – 1.800.387.KIDS (5437)
- ceasenow.org – 780.471.6137
- ACTAlberta.org – 780.474.1104
Sexual Exploitation Week of Awareness: April 18-22
Free public event
April 21, 7:00-9:00 p.m.
Santa Maria Goretti Centre (11050 – 90 St)
Featuring keynote speaker Kathy King and moderator Chris Chang-Yen Philips
Discussion includes: dynamics of exploitation; vulnerability in families; the denial in society and the monumental shift of consciousness required to create equality and respect for women.