Every year on average, there are over 5,000 cases of missing children reported to law enforcement in Quebec. Runaways account for nearly 90% of all these cases and involve youth between the ages of 12-17. The reasons why they run away are complex, but are generally associated with them attempting to gain some control over their lives. While most will return home within a few days, a smaller number of youth may spend periods of time on the street, in shelters or other unfamiliar environments.
One out of every three runaways will fall victim to sexual exploitation. Youth enrolled in the welfare system are particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking, as are youth from First Nations and LBGTQ community.
SEXUAL EXPLOITATION OF MINORS
The sexual exploitation of youth can take many forms: prostitution, pornography, stripping, dancing topless, escort services and erotic massages. It is important to note that all forms of sexual exploitation are illegal under the Criminal Code of Canada and should be reported immediately.
Victims can be of any age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socio-economic background or religion. Exploiters target and prey on the vulnerability of young people and groom them by gaining their trust and promising a better and more glamourous life. Exploiters may pose as a boyfriend or girlfriend, a trusted confidant or peer, or they may try to entice youth through promoting a better lifestyle, gifting, providing alcohol or drugs, free rides or shelter. To keep youth from leaving or seeking help, exploiters may use tactics such as abuse, isolation, sextortion, threats, instilling fear, projecting blame and responsibility, or making false promises.
Youth are vulnerable to sexual exploitation in large urban cities as well as geographically remote locations. Recruitment and grooming can occur online, at home, at school or in places where youth commonly hang out.
TODAY’S DIGITAL CULTURE PLAYS A PROMINENT ROLE IN THE ONSET OF SEXUAL EXPLOITATION
More than ever, technology has greatly impacted the issue of sexual exploitation. A child may be recruited, lured and groomed online before they even meet their exploiter face-to-face. Parents therefore need to monitor their child’s activities outside the home, but also monitor what they do inside the home while on their mobile devices and online.
According to Cybertip National Tipline, there has been a 57% increase in reports of adults contacting children ages 8-12 to engage in sexual activities via live stream. Today, children are accessing technology at younger ages and conversations need to start happening with them in regards to online safety. Children of that age group need to understand the risks or consequences as it relates to connecting with people they do not know online.
The vast majority of apps, websites, and online gaming platforms now include a live stream component. This opens tweens to risks ranging from seeing unmoderated content, to inappropriate live chat, to adults viewing their streams and/or contacting them through private messages in order to move children to a private stream.