FAQs about Sexual Exploitation

Sexual exploitation is the exchange of a sexual act for money, drugs, food, shelter, transportation, love, acceptance or any other considerations. Below are some frequently asked questions about sexual exploitation.

What are the main risk factors in youth that increase their likelihood of being sexually exploited?

The main risk factors that increase a youth’s likelihood of being sexually exploited are:

  • being the victim of sexual, physical, or emotional abuse or trauma
  • lack of security and sense of belonging
  • isolated and disconnected from social support structures
  • lack of family and social bonds, dysfunctional family (violence, neglect, substance misuse)
  • drug and alcohol misuse
  • FASD/FAE or learning disorders
  • dropping out of school
  • low self-esteem
  • living in rural and remote communities
  • poverty (and increasing feminization of poverty)
  • socioeconomic marginalization
  • youth unemployment/homelessness
  • leaving home at an early age
  • Indigenous, immigrant, refugee youth

Need Help?

Contact the Youth Resource Centre:


Did You Know?

Archway has been providing the Stop Exploiting Youth program since 2005 and services for youth since 1969.

Who are the perpetrators of sexual exploitation?


Pimps are usually male who target females and may pose as their boyfriend. They are manipulative, unemployed with limited education (although have material success), often associated with other criminal activities. They may also have one or more “girlfriends” and exert total control over their lives. They live off of the earnings of a person working in the sex trade and control what she does and earns.


Recruiters can be male or female and are typically a similar age to their potential victim, offering them “friendship”. They seek out and try to convince others to work in the sex trade on behalf of a pimp. They watch for youth who have a desire to party and use drugs, and they seek out youth that are vulnerable due to low self-esteem, poor family life, and a lack of belonging.

What are the experiences and outcomes of youth who are sexually exploited?

Youth who are sexually exploited

  • experience high levels of violence in the form of physical abuse, sexual violence, and verbal threats and harassment
  • are at risk of violence in almost all facets of life
  • normalize violence as it becomes a taken-for-granted part of their lives
  • experience verbal harassment and threats from general members of the public
  • live in constant fear
  • become numb or desensitized to violence (key features of post-traumatic stress disorder)
  • are 2 to 3 times more likely to have considered or attempted suicide than non-exploited youth
  • are more likely to be self-injurious and engage in self harming behaviours as well as self-destructiveness
  • demonstrate violent and aggressive behaviours
  • are more likely to have tried and used a variety of ‘harder’ drugs than their non-exploited peers (ex. cocaine, hallucinogens, amphetamines, inhalants, mushrooms, steroids, and prescription pills)
  • are more likely to have tried and used injection drugs such as heroin
  • are more vulnerable to be harmed by violence when under the influence of drugs and alcohol
  • are at risk of becoming infected with HIV and Hepatitis C and becoming drug dependent
  • may become pregnant, which can lead to health risks for the mother and fetus and possible removal of the baby at birth
  • lack youth-friendly health services
  • lack routine and identification

Which youth are most at risk for online exploitation?

When it comes to online sexual exploitation, some youth are more at risk than others. Research indicates that 13- to 15-year-old girls are most vulnerable, particularly those who voluntarily place themselves in risky situations – by engaging in online discussions with strangers, flirting and talking about sex online, and by publicly posting personal and intimate information in Web environments such as social networking sites.

It’s important to remember that young people who are most at risk online also tend to be those who are most at risk offline: they include youth who engage in harmful or risk-taking behaviours in the real world, are gay or questioning sexuality (males), experience physical or sexual abuse, experience mental health difficulties and who have relationship difficulties with parents or caregivers.


How can you tell if a young person is being targeted by online exploitation?

It is possible that a youth is the target of an online predator or is being sexually exploited if:

  • they spend a great deal of time online alone
  • pornography or sexual photos are found on their computer
  • they receive phone calls from people their parents don’t know; or make calls (sometimes long distance) to numbers their parents don’t recognize
  • they receive mail, gifts or packages from someone their parents don’t know
  • they withdraw from family and friends; or quickly turn the computer monitor off or changes the screen if an adult enters the room

Here are some fantastic tips and guidelines for parent’s keeping their child safe online. In particular:

If your child or your child’s friend has been involved in a self/peer exploitation incident (otherwise known as “sexting”), this site is extremely helpful. This site provides you with guidance on steps you and your child or child’s friend can take to get through it.

How often does sexual assault happen in Canada?

A numerical representation of how often sexual assault happens in Canada:

  • Of every 100 incidents of sexual assault, only 6 are reported to the police
  • 1 – 2% of “date rape” sexual assaults are reported to the police
  • 1 in 4 North American women will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime
  • 11% of women have physical injury due to sexual assault
  • Only 2 – 4% of all sexual assaults reported are false reports
  • 60% of sexual abuse/assault victims are under the age of 17
  • over 80% of sex crime victims are women
  • 80% of sexual assault incidents occur in the home
  • 17% of girls under 16 have experienced some form of incest
  • 83% of disabled women will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime
  • 15% of sexual assault victims are boys under 16
  • half of all sexual offenders are married or in long term relationships
  • 57% of aboriginal women have been sexually abused
  • 1/5th of all sexual assaults involve a weapon of some sort
  • 80% of assailants are friends and family of the victim

Cited from SexAssault.ca

What are the common mental health issues faced by sexually exploited youth?

Sexually exploited, or at-risk children and youth, often present with a range of mental health and other developmental and cognitive disabilities impacting their lives. Behaviors that accompany many mental health challenges impact success with family, peers and at school.

Common mental health issues faced by sexually exploited youth:

  • Learning disabilities
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
  • Schizophrenia and psychosis
  • Depression
  • Chronic anxiety disorder and panic attacks
  • Suicide attempts and suicide
  • Self-harm
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Substance abuse issues

How do I know if I’m being sexually exploited?

Sexual exploitation is the exchange of a sexual act for money, drugs, food, shelter, transportation, love, acceptance or any other considerations. To know if you or a friend are being sexually exploited, there are five warning signs to look out for:

Age difference

Exploiters like to target younger victims, acting as a “boyfriend/ girlfriend” to gain a youth’s trust.

Lifestyle changes

If a youth suddenly starts to skip or drop out of school, dress differently, change their activities, or use more drugs/ alcohol, this may be a red flag.


Exploiters use gifts (ex: clothes cellphone, drugs, alcohol, etc.) to build a youth’s trust but may put the youth in debt to them.


Exploiters may try to keep youth away from friends and family.

Gut feeling

If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Go with your gut feeling and trust your instincts.

How can your friends act as a “gateway” to sexual exploitation?

The greatest challenge with sexually exploited youth is that they do not know they are being exploited.

If you are exchanging sex for a place to stay, clothing, food, drugs or alcohol, and you’re under 18, it’s sexual exploitation.

The “gateway” to sexual exploitation often happens through friends. Some things to be aware of as a youth:

  • Really know who your friends are: youth who have been recruited into the sex trade have been lured because they have “friends” who have bought them nice things, given them money, and listened to them. There is usually a cost to everything!
  • It’s easier to get into trouble when you have a buddy to do it with: our friends can convince us to skip school, use drugs, go to parties, lie to our parents or have an older boyfriend/girlfriend. If things are getting out of control for you, there is help.
  • Does your friend care about you and have your best interests in mind? If the answer is no, or if you wonder sometimes, it might be time to think about finding new friends. Easier said than done, but there are people out there to help.

How can you protect your friends from sexual exploitation?

 Be more than a bystander. You can take a stand against sexual exploitation by speaking up! Watch the videos below to see how you can help stop the sexual exploitation of your peers.

How to Be More Than a Bystander – Party Scenario

How to Be More Than a Bystander – Locker Room Scenario

How can boys be involved in prevention of sexual exploitation of girls?

In the past, prevention of exploitation has been targeted primarily at women and girls. More recently, increased attention has been given to engaging younger males and adult males in the prevention of sexual violence.

It is now widely recognized that gender norms about masculinity contribute to violence against women and girls. Although it is true many young men and boys are sexually exploited, sexual violence is a gendered issue with, generally speaking, a male perpetrator and female and/or child victim. It is important to note most men are not violent or exploitative.

Some ways gender and cultural norms contribute to sexual violence against women and girls:

  • Men are expected to: take risks, endure pain, be tough, have multiple sex partners
  • Power imbalance: gender norms encourage men’s superiority and dominance over women and children
  • Economic dis-empowerment of men: there is increased sexual violence in households where men have been unable to fulfill role as breadwinner
  • Adolescent girls are not thought of as children: their bodies are seen as highly sensual and desirable

There is a lot to be done to support boys and young men to challenge norms of masculinity and femininity contributing to violence and sexual violence. For more information please visit the White Ribbon Campaign, or check out the Masks Off – A Challenge to Men video.

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