Teachers and other school staff have spent the week preparing for the return of students. Alongside the team building exercises and classroom preparations, there have been much more troubling conversations happening. For many, the back-to-school routine also includes learning how to recognize the signs of a person being coerced into the sex trade.
As a parent, I think this is a conversation we all need to be having. National statistics show at least one quarter of victims of sex trafficking are teenagers, some as young as 12, and local reports show us this is a problem right here at home.
Earlier this year, an RCMP officer in Nova Scotia called the human trafficking of young women and girls a hidden epidemic in our communities. Cpl. David Lane’s presentation specifically states that Moncton is a training ground for young girls brought into the sex trade. One of the first steps a trafficker takes in transitioning from grooming a girl to putting her to work is isolating her from her community; Nova Scotia girls are often brought to Moncton before continuing on to Quebec and Ontario.
Perhaps we should all put Jade Brooks’ memoir on our required reading lists this fall. Brooks grew up in Halifax, a bright girl whose parents fought with each other; one drank too much, the other was in and out of jail. Brooks entered the foster system at age 11 and the sex trade at age 17. In her book, The Teen Sex Trade: My Story, released last year, Brooks shares her tale of falling for a boy who turned his charms into demands. This is how our children are lured into scary situations: someone offers them attention, listens to their hopes and dreams, promises to deliver those things and even begins to make those dreams come true before threatening to take it all away unless the child shows their love in ways we know are not part of a healthy relationship.
Vulnerable youth are at great risk of being exploited, which I don’t think comes as a surprise to anyone reading this. What I think we need to reconsider as a society is not only how we support these vulnerable children, but also how we recognize who is vulnerable. It is not simply a matter of income or family dynamics. It’s a matter of connecting with the young people in our lives and ensuring that they feel acknowledged, that they feel empowered, that they feel loved. We can’t always see what tricky people are coming into their lives. We can’t always warn them away from making a mistake, even when we recognize it. But we can make sure they know we are there to support them and to accept them when they come to us and ask for help.
Cpl. Lane says many parents are often involved with their children’s lives and still don’t realize their daughter, or son, has been recruited into the sex trade until the child is already involved in dangerous activity. The CBC quotes Cpl. Lane as saying: “Every parent that I’ve sat down with says the exact same thing: ‘The last thing she said before she left was, “He treated me like a princess”.'”
We’ve come a long was as a society in terms of what we now teach our children — and ourselves — about personal health. Stigma is slowly being removed from discussions about physical and mental impairment, sexuality, addiction, depression, women’s reproductive health, and many other areas that were once ‘hush hush.’ I think it’s time we add sex trafficking to that list, along with ensuring everyone knows it’s okay to have made a mistake and ask for help.