Landmark sex exploitation study finds surprising number of female abusers
Gerry Bellett, Vancouver Sun
Published: Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Canada’s largest study into the sexual exploitation of street kids and runaways has shattered the myths and stereotypes about who the abusers are, the most surprising finding being that many are women seeking sex with young males.
“I must admit it wasn’t something we were expecting,” said Elizabeth Saewyc, associate professor of nursing at the University of B.C. and principal investigator for the study, conducted by Vancouver’s McCreary Centre Society.
“Some youth in each gender were exploited by women, with more than three out of four sexually exploited males reporting exchanging sex for money or goods with a female,” she said.
The results were drawn from interviews with 1,845 youth — some as young as 12 — in surveys taken across the province between 2000 and 2006.
The stereotypical model of the child being abused — a teenage girl being sexually abused by a man — is wrong, Saewyc said.
Sexual exploitation is defined as youth under the age of 19 trading sexual activities for resources such as money, drugs, gifts, food, services, shelter, transportation or anything similar.
This can include commercial sex work in brothels, escort services, pornography and Internet sex.
It also includes what’s called “survival sex,” where a child provides sex in exchange for a place to sleep, a meal or a ride.
The report found one in three children living on the street have been sexually abused, although many didn’t seem aware that they had been exploited, Saewyc said.
“It’s a shocking number. The law is clear any adult who has sex with children for any form of consideration is exploiting them and it’s illegal,” she said.
The study found 94 per cent of females reported they had been sexually exploited by men.
But the study found that young males were being preyed upon by sexual predators of both sexes, yet the social systems in place to deter and prevent sexual predation were only designed to help females and the criminal justice system wasn’t concerned with what was happening to young men.
“Women seeking young men and boys offer transportation or other things and some go to nightclubs and bars where they can pick up underage youth. And a certain percentage have been picked up by couples,” she said.
Saewyc said it was indicative of the prevailing myths about sexual abuse that the rehabilitation program for persons arrested by police for attempting to buy sexual favours on the street was called “John School.”
“I think it’s time we had a Jane School. There should be an equal opportunity school for women predators,” she said.
“Part of the challenge is that young males are not seen as being exploited because they are not coming to the attention of the police and the police aren’t out there picking up the perpetrators. The system is set up to handle the sexual exploitation of young women, not young men,” she said.
Community research associate Jayson Anderson said most of the programs to deal with sexual exploitation were designed by women for female victims.
“There’s really nothing out there for males, so we need programs for young boys,” he said.
The study showed that the following youth were most likely to suffer from sexual predation:
– Those who were lesbian, gay or bisexual.
– Those with physical or mental health issues.
– Those who had been abused by family members.
– Youth that had been in government care.
Saewyc said the research shows important changes need to be made to the way society deals with street children.
“If you ask them what they need, they will tell you: safe shelter, access to education and job training, and medical and dental health services,” she said.
“But many youth who have drug problems can’t find safe shelter because the shelters won’t allow them in unless they are drug free, which seems to make some sense.
“But I think it’s time for the shelters to lower the threshold and let them in, because a 14-year-old shouldn’t be forced to submit to sexual abuse just to find shelter and survive,” said Saewyc.
Saewyc’s UBC group was involved in a research program in Minnesota, observing programs that reconnect young runaways and street kids with their families or keep them in school, thereby preventing them from becoming ingrained in life on the street.