Sexual exploitation of youth can be prevented
Melissa is 15-years-old and a child of the street. She came from a stable home, middle-class, and used to do well in school. One day she found an invitation on her Facebook page to go to a LG (Little Girl) party. She was mad at her folks, and had heard that the parties were fun. Melissa went out, tried ecstasy and got drunk. She got so drunk she couldn’t stop them when they started to undress her.
Melissa’s life turned completely around after that party, she continued with the drugs, drinking, and soon left home. Sex seemed to be the only way Melissa knew to get the money she needed to survive. Alone and on the street years later she found herself addicted and unable to get into a shelter to help her change her life. When she finally got into a rehabilitation centre she found out she had HIV.
This story is fiction, but not really. It is a composite picture of many youth today in BC.
Last week in Grand Forks, Greenwood and Midway the Children of the Street Society presented unique workshops to age-specific groups starting at grades six and seven through to 12. Ada Tsang and Amar Ghelani, staff with the Society, presented four different skits about sexual exploitation, internet privacy, and gay relationships, ending with information and discussion about the topics as well as what a healthy relationship looks like.
“Online safety is one of the biggest issues facing youth, and particularly rural youth,” said Tsang, adding that one of the entry points for youth are parties organized online.
The Children of the Street Society was founded in 1995, by a group of parents united by at-risk children, or children drawn into the sex trade in the Lower Mainland. The Society is now headed by a Diane Sowden whose 13-year-old daughter was drawn into a life of sexual exploitation and drugs and has never been able to fully leave it behind. Today, the society does outreach around the province to help youth understand the dangers of the first steps that they often think are harmless.
Recognizing that this tragic occurrence can happen to any child in the community, Children of the Street Society began providing a series of prevention workshops aimed at educating children and youth to prevent young people from being drawn into the sex trade. Over the years, the Society's workshops expanded to educate parents, caregivers, teachers, service providers, police, government, community agencies, and the hospitality industry.
Tsang and Ghelani, both graduates from social work programs, did a total of six workshop sessions for youth and one for parents, support staff and the public. The community workshop with about 20 attendees was hosted on Tuesday, May 3 at Grand Forks Senior Secondary School auditorium.
While they recognize that the kids who are in school are not necessarily the ones in trouble, Tsang said that the workshops are valuable in prevention and that the kids in school can reach out to the others in the community to help.
“Human instinct is to blame the victims,” explained Ghelani. “People don’t choose to be sex workers.”
The Society not only provides the workshops for prevention, they also give free support service by telephone and online. They can manage disclosures to help families, and have been involved in bringing human trafficking cases to court.
As a result of increased community awareness throughout the province of British Columbia about the issue of sexual exploitation, a greater need for support was identified, which Children of the Street Society offers to youth, parents and caregivers.
Since its inception, Children of the Street Society has worked with the Provincial government to implement changes to the Child, Family and Community Service Act around the issue of sexual exploitation, as well as on a Federal level resulting in amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada.
Their funding is a mix of grants from foundations and corporations, as well as private donations. Their workshops receive 40 percent of their funding from the Ministry of Children and Family Development and the Attorney General of BC.