Shielding, healing vulnerable kids is everyone’s duty
Victoria: From luring kids online to child sexual assault, from grooming to pimping, and from ‘sexting’ to sharing child pornography, exploitation has one tragic, common element: young victims. Stop the Sexual Exploitation of Children and Youth Awareness Week, March 14-20, 2016, is a reminder to us all – individually, and with our schools, justice partners, youth organizations and governments – to do everything we can to prevent this devastating victimization. We all share responsibility for the well-being of our children and youth. Awareness is key to intervening. It’s difficult to protect vulnerable young people if parents, guardians, teachers and others aren’t aware of what’s going on – and it’s estimated 95% of sexual assaults are never reported to police. That’s why, in support of our Vision of a Violence Free BC Strategy, we’ll be launching an awareness campaign shortly that focuses on engaging all British Columbians in speaking out against sexual violence. Another way we’re building awareness is through B.C.’s innovative Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons (OCTIP). Its free, online training helps service providers to learn the signs of human trafficking and how to help ensure trafficked persons receive the protection, services and supports they need. About 7,000 people have taken this training to date, and I encourage anyone to do so. While it’s hard to pinpoint how many young people are trafficked within B.C., OCTIP and partner agencies have assisted with more than 200 cases involving potentially trafficked persons since July 2007. Sadly, many Aboriginal women and girls are vulnerable to sexual exploitation. That’s why B.C.’s Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, launched in 2013, has made their safety a priority. Through it, we continue to work with First Nations and Aboriginal communities to address this issue. Over the past five years, we’ve provided more than $1.7 million in civil forfeiture grant funding to organizations in B.C. to address issues of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. We and our partners are making progress – for example, by holding workshops on human trafficking with service providers, police, school personnel, youth-serving agencies and Aboriginal community members. Our police, including B.C.’s Integrated Child Exploitation Unit, continue to play a key role in identifying child victims of sexual exploitation and arresting those who distribute and view child pornography. This includes participation in sophisticated local and international investigative efforts, resulting in effective prosecutions and making it clear: if you make or share child pornography, you will be caught and face severe consequences. Similarly, the many high-profile cases of men attempting to lure children through social media and then travelling to meet them – only to be arrested by police who’ve posed online as vulnerable children – should serve as a warning. B.C. leads the country in working to keep known sexual offenders away from opportunities to work with vulnerable people, including children and youth. Our Criminal Records Review Program is the most extensive in Canada. It provides for expert, consistent adjudication on determining whether a person presents a risk to vulnerable people. Through this program, in 2013, we began offering volunteer and nonprofit organizations free criminal record checks for their volunteers who work with children and vulnerable adults. But it isn’t enough to prevent exploitation, identify its victims and prosecute its perpetrators. We must also help young victims to become survivors. To this end, the Province provides more than $70 million in annual funding to programs throughout B.C. that aid victims of crime, including children impacted by sexual violence, and trafficked persons. The hundreds of victim service and violence against women organizations my ministry funds in communities throughout B.C. provide incredible, compassionate and effective assistance. If you think a child or youth under 19 years of age is being abused or neglected, phone 1 800 663-9122 to talk to a child protection worker. If the child is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1. For more information: http://goo.gl/BrHUw0 We all have a role to play – and together, we can raise awareness and help protect our young people. I encourage all British Columbians to be vigilant about sexual exploitation of children and youth, and to report any suspected incidents to police. The stakes are high – and silence is a perpetrator’s best friend.
Mike Morris Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General