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Community services groups keep an eye on sex trade

Youth exploitation a concern during the Games



As the Winter Olympics play out in the Sea to Sky corridor, social workers continue to tackle youth sexual exploitation.

According to Shannon Herdman from the Howe Sound Women's Centre, before the Games started several local youths were thinking about going into the sex trade strictly during the international sporting competition.

"Some at-risk youth are planning on possibly getting involved in the sex trade during the course of the Olympics as more of an opportunistic situation," Herdman said three days before the Games began. "On the local level, the youth are aware of where they might fit into the sex trade right now."

This week Shana Murray, the children's program manager from the centre, added youth sexual exploitation is always a concern in Squamish and the Sea to Sky corridor.

"About four years ago, we did a survey with the youth and service providers, and quite a few of the youth made comments on the survey that yes these things were present in their life," she said. "It is a concern being the Olympics are here right now and a lot more people are coming from all over the world. It is common from other Olympics that the rate of violence against women is higher."

To address youth sexual exploitation, the centre and other community service groups have been holding workshops with high school students throughout the area for the past several years.

For example, the Howe Sound Women's Centre coordinated a presentation at the youth centre two weeks ago.

And outreach workers from Children of the Street Society were in both Whistler and Pemberton last month as part of their annual school workshops in the area.

Murray said teenagers are going to make the choices they are going to make, and her centre is not going to tell them not to make those choices. But through education, she hopes youths can learn how to protect themselves as well as learn where they can go if they need help.

Neither Herdman nor Murray knew whether any local youth have gone through with their earlier plans to make money through the sex trade during the Games.

Meanwhile, before the Games began, several community service groups teamed up to provide a free workshop to Whistler hotels that would teach front line workers how to identify youth exploitation situations.

The workshop, called HOPE: Helping Others Prevent Exploitation, was organized through the Women's Safety Network and the Children of the Street Society, with all fees covered by the Whistler Community Services Society and the Howe Sound Women's Centre program S.A.F.F.E. (Sea to Sky Adolescents Freedom From Exploitation.)