March 5 to 11 marks the 20th annual Stop the Sexual Exploitation of Children and Youth Awareness Week in B.C.
The province identifies sexual exploitation youth under the age of 18 as any type of sexual activity in exchange for money, drugs, food, shelter or any other considerations. This is the case whether or not the child or youth considers themselves to be consenting.
In Canada, under the Criminal Code, it is a crime for an adult to engage in sexual activity with a person under the age of 16. The average age when youth are first exploited (male or female) is 13 to 15 years old, according to the May 2008 report, It’s Not What Youth Think: Sexually Exploited Youth in British Columbia. Lesbian, gay and bi-sexual youth and those who have been kicked out or run away are at higher risk.
“The issue of child exploitation affects every community,” says Ray Bernoties, deputy chief, Oak Bay Police Department. “On-line exploitation has made this even more challenging for parents as even when you think your child is safely upstairs, they could be being exploited.”
Online exploitation can also take several forms including youth making and distributing sexual images of themselves, peers or sexual partners, being encouraged to post explicit images, lured into sexually exploitative situations through chat rooms and social networking sites.
“Having the computer in an open area in the house is a good idea,” Bernoties said. “Parents need to have difficult discussions with their kids in a non-judgemental fashion. I can tell you from years of policing, if someone thinks they’re going to be judged, they won’t tell you anything.”
Stopping the Sexual Exploitation of Children and Youth is part of the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General’s Crime Prevention Information Series. It helps service providers, parents, guardians, teachers and others protect children and youth from sexual exploitation or leave exploitative situations.
“If kids don’t learn about sexual exploitation from their parents, they’ll learn it from somebody, and that’s frightening,” Bernoties said.
VictimLinkBC is a toll-free, confidential, multilingual telephone service available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-563-0808. It provides information and referral services to all victims of crime and immediate crisis support to victims of family and sexual violence, including victims of human trafficking exploited for labour or sexual services.
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