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Recognizing the traps of sexual exploitation

Sexual exploitation is when one person uses another person’s body for sexual purposes for their own gain. One of the most common forms is procuring, in which someone forces a victim to provide sexual services in order to make a profit.

About 80% of people in the sex industry in Canada started as minors. The average age of entry into prostitution is around 14.

In Quebec, more than a third of people in prostitution are minors. And given the hidden nature of the industry, those numbers are just the tip of the iceberg.

Traps

Some people voluntarily engage in prostitution, believing it to be a temporary arrangement—a way to make a large sum of money quickly, for example. These young people often end up under the control of a pimp or pimp-like agency that takes away most of their earnings and victimizes them.

A pimp might use some of the following tactics to recruit their victim:

  • Approach them through their friends or mutual acquaintances at a bar, shopping mall, school yard, or youth centre or on social media
  • Seduce them and make them think they are getting into a romantic relationship
  • Promise a life of luxury and offer gifts or rewards
  • Manipulate them by presenting it as a way to repay a debt

Risk factors

People from all walks of life can become victims of sexual exploitation, but there are some factors that increase the risk. Certain situations make people more vulnerable to the traps set by pimps, for example:

  • Conflict with parents or running away from home
  • Drug or alcohol addiction
  • Thrill- and adventure-seeking
  • Social isolation or exclusion
  • Stressful events like a difficult breakup
  • An unstable home environment (no matter the family’s income)
  • Experiencing abuse or sexual violence at an early age or in a relationship

People who leave their country to settle in Quebec or who leave their community for the big city are ideal victims for sexual exploitation. They don’t always speak French and sometimes have difficulty with English, they often need money quickly, they have to create a new social circle or find a place to sleep, etc.

Signs to watch for

Victims of sexual exploitation tend to exhibit changes in behaviour. For example, they may:

  • Disengage from school and be absent more frequently
  • Be more focused on their appearance
  • Have new valuables with no explanation of where they came from (cell phone, jewellery, clothing)
  • Have a new romantic partner or new friends with questionable behaviour
  • Completely change their routine with no explanation
  • Come home late or sleep elsewhere for several days in a row
  • Use drugs or alcohol
  • Show signs of physical abuse

If you notice some of these signs in your child or someone close to you, talk to them and seek help. It’s important to listen with an open mind and a non-judgmental attitude.

Impacts of sexual exploitation

The majority of victims suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of their time in this kind of environment. They may experience:  

  • A sense of intense fear, shame, horror, and helplessness, accompanied by one or more physical ailments
  • Flashbacks or obsessive thoughts
  • Distress that manifests as anxiety or depression
  • Difficulty feeling certain emotions, such as tenderness or sexual desire
  • Difficulty focusing or sleeping
  • Hypervigilance, a constant state of alertness that makes them jumpy or highly reactive

Over the long term, spending time in the sex industry may lead to:

  • Homelessness
  • Difficulty finding or holding a job
  • Substance abuse
  • Difficulties with interpersonal relationships
  • Stigma, social exclusion
  • Contempt and loss of self-esteem
  • Etc.

People who provide sexual services are exposed to many dangers. They are at a high risk of physical, psychological, or financial abuse at the hands of both their clients and their pimps. Their mortality rate is 40 times higher than the Canadian average.

Getting help

If you are a victim or a witness of sexual exploitation, ask for help.

In case of emergency, dial 9-1-1.

Sexual Violence Helpline

  • 7 days a week

  • 24 hours a day

  • Throughout the province: 1-888-933-9007

  • Bilingual, free, anonymous and confidential service.

There are also several organizations that provide support services for victims and their families.

Last update: June 23, 2022

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