A former B.C. teacher turned advocate wants to help communities across the province put an end to child sex trafficking, which she says is occuring at an alarming rate in the region.
Cathy Peters says she’s always had a soft-spot for children, but it wasn’t until her son began working for a Manitoba MP that the safety of children became her key priority.
As Peters explained, the school where she taught in Delta was near what’s called “a kiddie stroll. A place where children would walk up and down the street to sell their bodies.” So at that time, her goal was just to get her students to successfully complete Grade 10.
Today, her mission has expanded from getting kids to a certain point in their education, to preventing them from ever being sold into the sex trade. To do this, Peters has been presenting all over the province to police, city councils, schools, churches, and whomever else she can, to talk about what she’s calling a “new pandemic: child sex trafficking in B.C.”
In the past two-and-a-half years, Peters has presented to more than 180 groups free of charge.
“British Columbia is the best place in Canada and North America for sex buyers,” said Peters during her presentation in Chilliwack’s Neighbourhood Learning Centre on June 19.
READ MORE: Raising awareness about sexual exploitation
And Peters wants to make sure Chilliwack, with its close proximity to the American border, has its eyes wide open when it comes to the safety of the community’s children.
“Don’t fool yourselves,” she said, looking around at the dozens of people who attended her presentation. “You have a very big problem here. Don’t be surprised if you find prostitution rings in the high schools.
“Where children play, predators prey,” Peters said simply.
“Child sex trafficking is all about the money,” continued the retired schoolteacher. The average pimp, says Peters, can get anywhere from $280,000 to $360,000 per year per victim. And right now, the most popular commodity on the sex trade market are young, white girls between nine- and 14-years-old.
“And our aboriginal girls are getting destroyed by this,” added Peters.
Const. Isabelle Christensen, who has been a member of the RCMP for more than two decades, sat in on Peters’ discussion.
“I think when we hear human trafficking we think of something different than what it is,” said the community liaison officer. “We’d like to think we don’t have that problem in Chilliwack, but seeing how it’s defined, it’s more like the old version of prostitution and johns.”
And the best way to combat that model says Peters, is to focus on what she calls the “Two Es:” education and enforcement.
In 2014, Canada enacted Bill C-36, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, which made the buyers of sex criminals, and those selling sex victims. However, Peters says it’s poorly enforced, which has lit the region up like a beacon to those looking to buy illicit sex.
“Our federal government is on the trajectory to fully decriminalize prostitution … We already have johns who act with impunity …and this will lead to brothels in every community. We are headed for hundreds of (Robert) Picktons (at this rate),” continued Peters.
But even in the darkest of places, the smallest bit of light helps. And Peters says Chilliwack is primed to be a leader in ridding the province of this criminal blight.
“You have a great detachment here, work with them!” exclaimed Peters, who met with each of the city’s four watches over the course of a month to make her presentation. “Don’t take (issues) on personally, get the police involved.
“I hear all the time from police, ‘We just don’t get the reports.’ So I beg of you, report it,” Peters continued.
And while the police reports help tremendously, Peters says the other aspect of ending this pandemic is ensuring a community has the right services to help victims escape with their lives.
Having seen a lot in her career with the RCMP, Christensen says one of the most important things that she walked away from Peters’ presentation with was the resources we have available at our fingertips.
“It opened my eyes to the services we have,” said the community-based officer. “The possibility of help is there.”