The Abbotsford Community Action Team (ACAT) is raising awareness in Abbotsford middle and high schools about sexual exploitation through posters, stickers and online information.
The posters feature four of the possible warning signs of sexual exploitation which include 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 less 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.”
“It is important to talk to the young people in your life about the signs of sexual exploitation to help them understand and recognize when they may be at risk. I urge everyone to educate themselves in order to help raise awareness in our communities and keep our children and youth safe.”
March 8th – 14th is provincially recognized as the Stop the Exploitation of Children and Youth Awareness week. Now in its 23rd year, the awareness 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 the Executive Director of the Abbotsford Youth Commission shares that, “the sexual exploitation of youth in Abbotsford is not a new issue. The ACAT started in 1999 with the goal of eradicating sexual exploitation in our 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.”
Parents, teachers and friends are encouraged to be on the lookout for youth who have unexplained money, cell phones, 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.
For more information about Sexual Exploitation, please visit Archway.ca/SEY
It is important to talk to the young people in your life about the signs of sexual exploitation to help them understand and recognize when they may be at risk.