Tuesday, May 4, 1999

Sue Bailey

National program to shine light on youth sex trade

Prostitutes ply their trade on a Vancouver street recent photo.
(Vancouver Sun/Mark Van Manen)

OTTAWA (CP) — Cherry Kingsley used to hide her former life as a teen prostitute because she feared the social backlash. There was a hostile view that young people sell sex because they choose to "or that we were the criminals," Kingsley, now 29, recalled Monday.

"I'm glad to see that attitude is changing," she said after introducing Out from the Shadows and Into the Light, a national project to fight the child sex trade. "Canadians are taking the position that this is child abuse."

There is still much educating to be done, Kingsley added.

Those who buy sex from minors, mostly men, come from all walks of life and satisfy their illegal urges in every city and hamlet, said the Vancouver resident.

The four-year, $1-million project will receive $365,000 in federal money while Save the Children and other agencies raise the rest.

Kingsley, as project manager, wants to contact 15 young people across Canada with personal sex-trade experience. They will receive books, videos and lists of local support agencies to each help 10 other sexually exploited young people, she said.

At the same time, Kingsley will visit urban, rural and native communities to assess the local sex trade and services for victims. She will work with community leaders who will be asked to join a national advisory committee to discuss solutions.

The number of minors sold for sex is difficult to estimate because the trade is so secretive, said Kingsley. Only about 10 per cent of business is done on the street. "A lot of it is indoors, including restaurants, nightclubs, bathhouses, public washrooms, malls."

Jannit Rabinovitch, co-ordinator of the project, said "tens of thousands" of youths are involved.

She recently helped survey nine British Columbia communities for the provincial Ministry of Health. Police, public health workers and youth counsellors were among those interviewed on the local child sex trade. Vancouver's gritty core was studied along with upscale Whistler, and child prostitution was found in every community assessed, she said.

"It's everywhere."

It continues because women are largely unaware of the issue while those who buy the services are morally disconnected, she believes.

"I've had professional, middle-class men say to me: 'I never thought of them as children.'"

The survey showed that 90 per cent of children sold for sex are girls, usually starting at about age 13. The proportion of boys rises in larger cities.

Most victims are runaways with low self-esteem, little education and a history of abuse. Many later battle drug addictions.

Few of their customers are ever prosecuted, Rabinovitch said.

"I think that's a reflection of the community standards" and the attitude adjustments that are still needed, she said.

The project's success will be measured through two national surveys of public views on the child sex trade. One is to be conducted this fall, the other in three years, Rabinovitch said.

Kingsley, who survived eight years of sexual exploitation and drug addiction starting when she was 14, wants to give victims the assurance she once lacked.

"Just trying to get other young people to believe that not only do they have the right to have a voice, but people will listen. And trying to create the environment… where people won't be mean to them if they do find the courage to come forward."

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Created: May 4, 1999
Last modified: January 21, 2001
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