The Abbotsford Community Action Team (ACAT) is raising awareness in Abbotsford middle and high schools about sexual exploitation.
Posters, stickers and online information are being used. The posters feature four of the possible warning signs of sexual exploitation: an age difference between the youth and the exploiter, lifestyle changes, gifts and becoming isolated.
A QR code allows students to anonymously report if they are feeling unsafe through the ERASE (Expect Respect and a Safe Education) initiative of the BC Ministry of Education.
The ACAT usually organizes an annual rally to raise public awareness, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, they’ve re-imagined how to educate youth, their families and the general public during a pandemic.
“With fewer work opportunities and opportunities for recreational activities, youth have been at an increased risk for exploitation over the last year,” said Mandy Aujla, an ACAT member who is a youth worker in the Stop Exploiting Youth program at Archway Community Services.
“Sexual exploitation can happen anywhere, including online. A lot of youth don’t realize that they are being exploited and feel that they have chosen to exchange sexual acts for resources. Not recognizing abuse can happen because the perpetrators are often in a position of trust, an authority, a friend, or someone the young person depends on.”
March 8 to 14 is provincially recognized as Stop the Exploitation of Children and Youth Awareness Week.
Now in its 23rd year, the week recognizes the importance of supporting communities to develop prevention, education, enforcement, and intervention strategies to address the sexual exploitation of children and youth.
Bev Olfert, an ACAT member and executive director of the Abbotsford Youth Commission, said ACAT started in 1999 with the goal of eradicating sexual exploitation in the community.
“The important work done by youth workers, social workers and police in our community to combat this issue is to be commended, but many youth are still falling through the cracks,” she said.
Parents, teachers and friends are encouraged to be on the lookout for youth who have unexplained money, cellphones, or gifts. Youth may have bruises, become withdrawn or moody, or be protective about relationships.
Anyone who suspects someone is being sexually exploited is asked to contact the Abbotsford Police. The Archway Youth Resource Centre can also provide support and resources.
Visit Archway.ca/SEY for more information.