Sex in the City, Part 3: Youth Sexual Exploitation

But broadly, Youth Sexual Exploitation refers to the sexual exploitation of teenagers.

The sex trade is real, it’s the oldest industry in the new world, so of course it’s happening here. And if it remains taboo, if it remains something forced underground, unassisted by community organizations and police, people are going to get hurt. Including vulnerable youth.

Government released a redacted version of a report this week, “It’s Nobody’s Mandate and Everyone’s Responsibility: Sexual Exploitation and the Sex Trade in Newfoundland and Labrador.” They talked with over 100 sex workers throughout NL who “helped paint a picture of what is happening in our province.”

To date, the report has been credited with improved collaboration among police, government, and agencies that provide services which can prevent the harm or exploitation of potential victims of the sex trade. Sites were visited in BC, so we could emulate similar organizations here, including street outreach services.

Youth Sexual Exploitation …

But broadly, Youth Sexual Exploitation refers to the sexual exploitation of teenagers. “No one wants to know,” says one woman from the report.  “Nobody wants to talk about it. They are screwing our children. It’s dirty and deep and affects everyone.”

It’s a fact hat in NL, “youth are preyed upon, lured, groomed, seduced, bought and sold.” They’re involved in both survival sex and the commercial sex trade.

Adults paying for their services are committing a crime, but usually getting away with it.

Targeting Vulnerable Youth …

Youth are being targeted in places as unimaginable as courthouses where they’ve appeared in trouble, vulnerable. Or else they’re targeted in parks, ball fields, parties, community shelters, or even at home.

It is also known that men will board incoming ferries, looking for loner or vulnerable teenagers to approach and exploit. Often times, they won’t even feel they’re being exploited, just cared for, albeit in a warped way. Manipulation is the word. As youth enter their 20s, they see in hindsight how they were being used.

Some men pick up youth from group homes, and drive them right back. The underage teens use the internet to facilitate this. These are young people let down and unhelped by families, community services, and communities proper.

Often times it’s boys and girls in their late teens who have left a group home, drifting, trading sex for accommodation, food, or even just the perceived affection of others and a sense of belonging. These youth are easily and systematically manipulated into doing things.

They Do What They Feel They Have to Do …

“They just think it’s what they have to do, either to get what they need, or to fit in where they didn’t fit in with their families.” If these vulnerable youth don’t know who can help them and how, survival instinct kicks in and they do what they can to survive. “We are seeing a lot of this, particularly in the 16-18 year age group.”

“You have no idea what I have to do,” some youth have said. And once exploited, it becomes a learned behaviour for exploited youth: this is what I can do to get food, clothes, drugs.

As many as 24 guys and girls have been working Duckworth at the same time. “They are beat up and robbed. The guys don’t want to use condoms. Every time the youth get into a car, they could disappear.”

Others have “boyfriends” who beat them, threaten them, take their clothes off and force them to have sex with strangers, either to avoid violence or to keep accommodation.

This runs as low as girls aged 13-15. This age groups cuts too young to be prominent in the commercial sex trade (strip clubs, etc), and are more tangled up in being used for sex in exchange for goods they can’t afford or their caregivers can’t – takeout, clothes, cigarettes: for this age group, these can be seen as basic needs.

It is harder to learn more about issues for exploited male youth as they seem less comfortable labelling themselves a “victim,” and homosexuals are often afraid to reveal their sexuality, which would be required to tell their stories. In this sense, the report says, “they’re doubly victimized.”

Drug Use and Youth Abuse …

Particularly in smaller communities, where drug use is a big issue, youth sexual exploitation is more rampant. Sex is a means to an end for a drug someone is addicted to, and sick for another fix of.

This issue, the link between drugs and sexual exploitation, is getting worse and worse in Newfoundland, as the drugs we are seeing here get harder and harder, and more and more costly and addictive. The pills people are hooked on make them more and more desperate for more. And less able to afford their next fix.

Adults Meeting a Youth’s Basic Needs with a Live-in Sexual Relationship  …

In these scenarios, the adult typically extends severe control over the youth, in dynamics akin to abusive marriages. The adult will often dictate the youth’s social life or even daily movements. If this is a youth’s first understanding of relationships and intimacy, they’re less likely to question it.

Conclusion: It’s happening. Youth Sexual Exploitation is common in our province, a means to an end for vulnerable teens. Now let’s talk, on municipal and provincial levels, about what we can do, that other provinces do, to minimize this for people living in Newfoundland and Labrador.

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