In general, sexual exploitation occurs when a child under nineteen years of age is sexually abused by adults; engages in sexual activity to support a friend, partner, or family member; trades sexual activities with adults in exchange for money, drugs, food, shelter, gifts, transportation, or other items; engages in commercial sex work in brothels, escort services, for pimps, pornography; and internet sex. Sexual exploitation of young people under the age of nineteen years is not employment or a chosen occupation. Many youth who have suffered childhood sexual abuse engage in survival sex (providing sex for a place to sleep, a meal, or for a ride) after they have run away from home or child welfare facilities.
A Statistics Canada study found that 25% of Aboriginal people identified sexual abuse as a problem in their community (23% for Métis peoples, 22% for off-reserve First Nations, 29% for on-reserve First Nations and 35% for Inuit peoples).35 In fact, three quarters of Aboriginal girls under the age of 18 have been sexually assaulted.36 The incidence of child sexual abuse in some Aboriginal communities is as high as 75 to 80% for girls under 8 years old.37 Of all Aboriginal people who have been sexually abused in Canada, 75% are girls under age of 18. Of these girls, 50% are under age 14 and 25% are younger than 7 years of age at the time of the abuse.38 It is estimated that the majority of all sex workers in western Canada are Aboriginal (for example, 60% of all sex workers in Vancouver are Aboriginal) and that most victims of sexual trafficking are Aboriginal as well.39
Prostitution (also called the ‘sex trade’) includes commercial sexual activities where sex is exchanged by adults for food, housing, money or drugs. Commercial sexual activities with Aboriginal youth are sexual exploitation - they are illegal. Typically, sex is traded on the street, in massage parlours, dance clubs, escort agencies, bars, trick pads, hotels, bath houses, apartments and houses. Aboriginal girls and women involved in sex work face significant physical and sexual violence and serious risks to their physical and emotional health. Most are lured into prostitution by pimps or ‘boyfriends’, and are forced to stay in the sex trade because of drug dependency and retaliation from pimps. 40 However, it is common in some Aboriginal communities and in the broader non-Aboriginal population (particularly with men) for Aboriginal girls to be stereotyped as ‘willing’ to take up sex work; there is a prevailing mentality of girls being ‘sexually available’. Preliminary data in two Canadian Aboriginal gang intervention projects suggests that in some communities, family members introduce daughters, grand-daughters, nieces, or sisters into the sex trade. In the absence of jobs, socialization of young women into the sex trade is understood to be a legitimate way to bring money into some families.41 It is important to contextualize these issues within the legacy of colonization, assimilation, poverty, and the internalized de-valuation of Aboriginal women and girls.
It is important to identify that trafficking is not prostitution or sex work – it is a form of slavery. It “involves the recruitment, transportation or harbouring of persons for the purpose of exploitation, and may occur across or within borders. Traffickers use various methods to maintain control over their victims, including force and threats of violence.”42 Sexual trafficking involves the use of threat, force, deception, fraud, abduction, authority and giving payment to achieve consent for the purpose of exploitation. It is common to confuse other forms of sexual exploitation with trafficking. For example, an adult who consents to engage in prostitution is not being trafficked. As well, trafficking involves systematic transportation and confinement. Sexual trafficking of Canadian Aboriginal girls and women is most common within the borders of Canada, particularly in the Prairie provinces. Trafficking networks are found in major cities (such as Vancouver, Winnipeg, Regina, Edmonton) and in small towns in B. C. and the Prairies. There are patterns of city triangles across provinces (for example, Saskatoon – Edmonton – Calgary – Saskatoon; and Calgary – Edmonton – Vancouver – Calgary).43 The oil rigs and mining businesses in Alberta have contributed to trafficking activity. When discarded or escaping, Aboriginal women end up in big city ‘hot spots’ such as Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, where they are at considerable risk of being victimized by severe violence and murder.
There is a robust body of literature on the sexual abuse of disabled people, although the abuse of people with FASD has not been as widely investigated. It has been reported that 83% of women with disabilities will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime44 and that the rate of sexual abuse of girls with disabilities is four times that of able-bodied girls.45 One study of 80 birth mothers of children with FAS revealed that 95% of the mothers were physically or sexually abused during their lifetime.46 Likewise, longitudinal studies of individuals with FASD estimate that approximately 75% of girls and women have been sexually abused and a majority of males engage in sexual behaviors that had been repeatedly problematic or for which the individual had been incarcerated or treated. 47 These behaviours include sexually inappropriate behavior (such as sexual advances and multiple sexual partners), sexually intrusive behavior (such as exposure, compulsions, voyeurism, masturbation in public, and obscene phone calls) and sexual assaults (such as sexual touching, incest, sex with animals).48 Although most FASD youth have a normal sex drive, problems emerge due to the hallmark poor judgment and impulsivity of many FASD-affected young people.49 The actual incidence of problematic sexual behavior is likely much higher due to underreporting.
FASD female youth, especially those who are isolated and visibly disabled, are at particularly high risk for being sexually exploited, pimped and trafficked by older men. Although there are few published studies on the topic, anecdotal reports suggest that FASD-affected Aboriginal girls and women have high involvement in sex trade.50 Some service providers have also indicated that often other girls pimp them out.51
A small number of social service agencies in Canada have recently started to address the needs of FASD-affected Aboriginal women in the sex trade. For example, the Association of Community Living, in partnership with Prostitution Empowerment and Education Resources Society (PEERS), has been working on these issues through the Winnipeg Working Group on FASD and the Sex Trade.52