Targeted, Deceived, and Isolated
Exploitive predators no longer need in-person contact to bring traumatic harm to vulnerable youth.
Sexual exploitation and/or trafficking is sexual abuse through the exchange of sex or sexual acts for drugs, food, shelter, protection, other basics of life, and/or money. Sexual exploitation includes involving victims in creating pornography and sexually explicit websites. Sexual exploitation of young girls and boys for profit is a complex social issue.
There are emerging vulnerabilities for youth due to the impact of misused social media and sexting. 1 in 5 youth are sexually solicited online and 75% of them don’t tell a parent. Sexual exploitation can happen to anyone regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, family history, ethnicity, religion, or geographic location. Youth are particularly vulnerable during adolescence when they are forming opinions about healthy relationships and gender issues, and when they are trying to develop autonomy by naturally breaking away from parental authority. There are, however, a number of factors that may make a youth more vulnerable to being exploited and/or trafficked. Most at risk are marginalized populations, youth who are questioning their sexuality, escaping harmful family environments such as abuse, neglect, poverty, domestic violence or addictions, youth in foster care, FASD affected, all fall easy prey to those seeking to exploit their circumstances.
“Lover Boy” is slang for men who lure underage girls into prostitution. Lover boys seek out vulnerable girls online and in typical youth hangouts. Showering her with ‘love’, attention, gifts, protection, introducing her to drugs and parties of ‘celebrity status’ a Lover Boy takes her into a world where she doesn’t need parents or friends. He projects a romantic future of just the two of them. She will do anything for him to prove her love and devotion. Suddenly his story changes. He is in debt and fearful for his safety. He asks for her help. She wants to rescue him but when she runs out of her very limited resources he has the perfect solution – prostitution. When she shrinks from the idea the sweet boy disappears. He is cold and hard. He blackmails her with sexual webcam videos and pictures of her. Ashamed and isolated, she becomes a victim to his threats, abuse, rape. She has no choice but to work for him. He may force her to become a ‘lover girl’ soliciting other youth for him. Trafficking is the next stage. She wakes up from a drug-induced state in a city she knows nothing about.
Love them. Listen to them. Value their opinions and educate ourselves on their natural needs during adolescence. Build strong family units and positive peer relationships. Create youth awareness of the risks of sexual exploitation. Monitor ‘free-will’ computer use and mobile devices. Look for signs of luring such as unexplainable expensive clothing or jewellery, secrecy, detachment from family and friends, uncharacteristic shifts in attitudes and demeanour. Become more than a bystander. If you see something that seems wrong, challenge it. Challenge sexism and misogyny in our society. Speak out about violence against women and young girls. When in doubt, don’t hesitate to reach out to appropriate resources with expertise.
At Highest Risk
Women engaged in survival sex trade fear violence and its pervasive influence on their lives. They experience violence at the hands of almost everyone with whom they come in contact with. Sexual assault of sex workers is more likely to involve physical violence requiring hospitalization and more likely to involve more than one assailant.
Nobody Cares About Me
Women engaged in survival sex trade are marginalized, devalued and not viewed as victims of crime. Public perception is that sexual assault is part of the risk of a street-entrenched lifestyle and should be anticipated. Survival sex trade workers are least likely to report assaults out of a fear (and experiences) of not being believed, that the system will not respond, that they will be arrested, or that the assailant will retaliate. The streets are dangerous places.
Paradigm Shifting Approaches
Survival sex trade is exchanging one’s body for basic subsistence needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. “Body” becomes the only form of accessible currency. Exiting survival sex trade is difficult and risky. Prostitution laws and enforcement practices have evolved to treat survival sex trade workers compassionately as victims as opposed to criminals breaking the law. It is widely accepted that the sex worker is impacted by trauma, and/or mental health and substance use, and/or homelessness. Efforts are made to assist the worker to access supportive services to reduce risk, increase safety, protect dignity, and provide exit strategies. Focus is on the purchaser or exploiter of the service, not the provider.