Landmark sex exploitation study finds surprising number of female abusers
Gerry Bellett, Vancouver Sun, 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
"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
"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,"
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:
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.