The Abbotsford Community Action Team hosts its annual rally on Tuesday, March 5 against the sexual exploitation of children and youth. (Submitted photo)

Rally against sexual exploitation of children and youth

Event takes place Tuesday, March 5 in Abbotsford

The Abbotsford Community Action Team (ACAT) hosts its annual public rally on Tuesday, March 5 against the sexual exploitation of children and youth.

The rally takes place during the provincial Stop the Exploitation of Children and Youth Awareness Week (March 4 to 10).

The rally begins at 3:30 p.m. with remarks from Sheila Lum – chair of ACAT and a youth support worker at Abbotsford Community Services (ACS) – and Abbotsford Police Const. Mary Boonstra.

Those who would like to join the rally are invited to meet at the ACS office at 32700 George Ferguson Way.

Participants will walk down to Gladwin Road and up to South Fraser Way. The event will conclude with refreshments.

Community members can also show their support by wearing fuchsia ribbons.

Ribbons are available at the front desk of ACS at 2420 Montrose Ave. while supplies last.

The colour fuchsia was chosen because it is a combination of red – representing red-light districts – and purple, which is the provincial colour for violence prevention.

“The rally is an annual reminder that this problem isn’t going away,” Lum said.

“Every week, I work with youth who are being exploited. Sometimes, they’re not even aware they’re being exploited until we teach them what a healthy relationship looks like.”

Sexual exploitation is the exchange of a sexual act for money, drugs, food, shelter, transportation, love, acceptance or any other consideration.

A report by the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General says, “victims of sexual exploitation include children and youth of different ages, genders, abilities, sexual orientations, and cultural and economic backgrounds in both rural and urban areas.”

The report also shares that the average age when youth are first exploited is 13 to 15 years old.

Lum reports seeing even younger clients.

“Exploitation doesn’t always come from expected sources in traditional ways. Sometimes girls will recruit their friends in order to keep their exploiters/perpetrators happy, and the parents have no idea,” she said.

Parents, teachers and friends are encouraged to be on the lookout for youth who have unexplained money, cellphones, or gifts. They may have bruises, become withdrawn or moody, or be protective about relationships.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 Youth Resource Centre at ACS can also provide support and resources.

For more information on the rally or ACAT, visit saferself.ca or send an email to Sheila.Lum@abbotsfordcommunityservices.com.

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