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It’s Victims and Survivors of Crime Week and this year we’re focusing on youth victims of exploitation and trafficking. This kind of crime completely interrupts lives and has a profound impact on youth. But before diving into the effects on youth, we want to share a bit about what exploitation with intent to traffic is. 

YOUTH EXPLOITATION & TRAFFICKING 

When we’re talking about exploitation, we’re talking more specifically about human trafficking through sex work. We don’t mean consensual, adult sex work – we’re talking about children and youth who are being pressure, coerced, and forced into it. They’re underage and they’re victims; they’re children in need of support and protection.

Exploitation & Grooming

The youth at highest risk of exploitation are those who are or at least feel ‘different’ from their peers in some way. These youth are looking for connection.  Exploitative relationships typically begin when an adult person identifies a ‘need-gap’ in a youth’s life. This can be anything from the need for love, attention, and affection to housing or food. Because the youth is looking for ways to fill this need, the exploiter builds a relationship with the youth based on meeting, or pretending to meet, this need. This is the grooming stage. It creates a situation where the exploiter tries to leverage what they’ve ‘given’ the youth in order to ‘ask for’ (read: demand) something in exchange.

When exploiters make demands, it’s often accompanied with guilting, threats of violence, and threats to take back or cut off what they’ve been providing for the youth. This experience on its own can be traumatizing and life interrupting. Living in fear of being physically harmed or going back to having their needs unmet motivates some youth into compliance. Others, however, will more willingly oblige because they feel they owe the exploiter something; they don’t. This is an abusive situation, and youth are being abused even if that’s not how they frame it.

Interrupted Lives

The experience of exploitation and trafficking disrupts all aspects of a youth’s life. It pushes out relationships with family, friends, and safe community. Youth might start missing a lot of school, stop hanging out with their friends, withdraw from interactions with family, quit jobs, or drop out of activities they once loved. Trafficking puts youth in survival mode, leaving them unable to think far enough ahead to plan for and take action toward building their future. 

Exploited youth are living very complicated, dangerous lives. The threat of violence might be and often is a daily presence. The services they’re being forced to perform are traumatizing and often even basic safety measures are discouraged. The youth are often isolated. Nobody can thrive in an environment like that.

Imagine this scene:

You’re a teacher overseeing morning drop-offs outside the school. You see one of your 17-year-old students in the car with an older man; you know he isn’t her father. You’ve seen her dropped off by him a few times before. They were talking and it looked tense. As she walks by, you ask who was dropping her off. She responds with an eye roll and tells you to mind your own business. This student has been missing school more and she’s been getting into a bit of trouble.

The easy reaction is to only see her being rude and the problems with her behaviour. But what we have to consider is what else could happening. The core question we can ask is: Is that man someone she feels safe with?

If the answer is no, it could be for so many reasons. Without defining her (or other youth’s) experiences we can pay attention to what’s going on. Could her rudeness be interpreted in a different way? Things like her recent behaviour and absences could be indicators of distress, ongoing or recent traumatic experiences, abuse, and so on. 

Want a deeper dive into working with and supporting exploited youth?

Watch our webinar from May 30, 2023.

WATCH THE RECORDING

WHAT WE’RE DOING

Because exploiters try to leverage youth’s needs against them, we work with youth to fill need-gaps, build upon strengths and resilience, and take control of their futures.

Directions Youth Services

The more marginalized a youth is, the more vulnerable they are. The youth at highest risk of being trafficked are youth experiencing homelessness. Our DYS programming all works to meet youth’s immediate needs for shelter, food, and connection to fill these gaps. 

Victim Services

When youth are being exploited, they’re living in survival mode. Our goal is to work with them toward something more than survival. Not everyone is ready or able to leave their situation. Meeting youth where they’re at means listening to them about what they want and what they’re interested in. This includes creating client-led safety plans, encouraging and supporting thinking about their futures, and focusing on building up their community, resources, and sense of autonomy. 

Trauma Counselling

The impacts of trauma can touch every part of people’s lives. We have several trauma counselling programs designed with a focus on healing and taking control of one’s life. From STV (Stop the Violence) and SAIP (Sexual Abuse Intervention Program) to Healthy Connections (for pregnant parents wanting to work through the ways their trauma might impact their parenting) and more, we work with survivors to get them where they want to be. 

WHAT YOU CAN DO

If you’re wondering “How can I help?”, then first of all THANK YOU. We have a couple of ideas.

Be trauma-informed for the youth in your life.

Want to learn how? Download our info sheet for practical ways to be trauma informed. 

Providing Trauma-Informed Youth Support

This quick read provides substantial information for those wanting to be safer adults, caregivers, and authority figures working with youth.

Looking for a deeper dive? We hosted a webinar on May 30, 2023 for those wanting to learn more about working with exploited youth. 

REGISTER TO RECEIVE A RECORDING

Support our work.

You have the power to make a significant impact, even if you’re not an expert in working with exploited youth. We’re here for clients, 24/7/365. By making a donation today, you are ensuring that more people get the support they need and deserve.

SUPPORT VICTIMS

UN\Interrupted is a campaign by Family Services of Greater Vancouver
made possible by generous funding from the
Department of Justice Canada