Stopping the Silence
to the street to raise awareness around child sexual exploitation
supporters raise awareness with a march around downtown Chilliwack last
Tuesday. Below, Councillor Stewart McLean speaks.
was ugly weather last Tuesday for a rally on an even uglier subject
– child sexual exploitation.
About 75 youth and adults stood in front of the Chilliwack
courthouse applauding speakers and waving placards denouncing the
The peaceful event was organized by the Chilliwack Child and Youth Committee
(CYC) in partnership with Chilliwack Community Services in
conjunction with Stop Sexual Exploitation and Youth Awareness Week.
people don't see young girls on the street in Chilliwack, they
assume it's not happening here. It easier to write it off as just a
big city crime. But, according to CYC Coordinator Karen Steegstra,
it is an issue here.
"There's been many cases
where young women are being recruited into prostitution, and also
people don't realize what sex exploitation actually is," she told
the Voice at the rally. "There's gang infiltration at the
schools and if you talk with the youth workers, they'll tell you
kids are being recruited."
Steegstra said last week a group called
Children of the Street fanned across Chilliwack visiting schools
with their message and CYC also offered a series of information
sessions for parents and kids.
On Monday, Merlyn Horton from Safe Online Outreach Society, was at
the Neigbourhood Learning Centre speaking about internet safety and
"Youths may think they are talking to another youth, but it could be
an adult, a predator," said Steegstra. "Her advice is don't ever let
anyone take any sexual pictures of you, and don't post it online,
because you just never know who's hands its going to end up in."
Marchers walked around the block from the courthouse as seen on
Princess St. above.
Speaking to the crowd over the P.A. system, Chilliwack City
councillor Stewart McLean said that "Sexual exploitation of youth is
not acceptable in our community. It's something we all need to work
even more at to prevent this awareness group that's taking place is
a really good step towards that end."
"Everyone needs to become more aware of what this is all about, how
to stop it, how to prevent it. Our children should be able to feel
safe in their own community and homes," continued McLean.
said he was speaking from experience after having worked in social
services for almost 20 years.
"I've seen what happens to youth when they're exploited in this way
and it just isn't something that's right, and we all need to put our
best foot forward and find a solution about how we can prevent it."
One of the other featured speakers was RCMP Cpl. Jassy Bindra from
the Human Trafficking Division. She had high praise for those at the
rally, thanking them for their support.
"I'm always impressed to how committed Chilliwack is to the cause of
human trafficking. This is the third year in a row that I've been at
this event. I'm especially impressed to see so many young people,"
Speaking to the Voice after the rally, Bindra said statistics
the RCMP have are not really indicative of how deeply entrenched the
issue is in the community.
"Human trafficking is such a clandestine affair that it's not
necessarily reported, but if you look at non-government
organizations and our community partners who are in fact dealing
with children hands-on, you would see that it's absolutely a
problem," says Bindra.
Bindra admits that it's "unfortunate" there have been no convictions
for child sexual exploitation in Chilliwack, and only one successful
conviction in the province since 2005 when the human trafficking
legislation came into effect. According to Bindra, up until that
time, sentences were not in line with the harm criminals were doing
to young lives.
In 2010, penalties were increased to five-year mandatory sentences
for human trafficking up from the 1-2 years jail time that criminals
received in the past.
Conviction rates are equally dismal across country with only 13
trials in Canada that saw jail terms handed out.
Bindra says Mounties see all age ranges involved in sexual
exploitation, but a lot of the Division's focus is on youths because
they can be easily taken advantage of. Sometimes it's promises of
love from prospective pimps that gets them involved.
"How we generally see that play out is that a male befriends a young
girl who is part of the foster system, group care system, comes from
a broken home, then lures her in with promises of love and
affection," explains Bindra.
"That's a great motivator for someone and then once you have a young
child brought into your fold like that, it's very easy for pimps to
traffic them out to work in the streets, work brothels, work in a
hotel room, and bringing all that money back to the pimp, and he
just does nothing."
She says the young girls are plied with alcohol and drugs, and if
they refuse to cooperate, then often threats and violence are used
to intimidate in order to get them to comply.
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