Feature Story                                                                                                 Saturday, February 15, 2014

 

Stopping the Silence

Marchers take to the street to raise awareness around child sexual exploitation

Staff/Voice photos

 

Rally supporters raise awareness with a march around downtown Chilliwack last Tuesday. Below, Councillor Stewart McLean speaks.

 

t 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 despicable crime.

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.

 

When 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 protection.

"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.

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," she said.

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.

For more information, visit www.childandyouth.com

 

See more photos below.

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