Thursday, February 22, 2007

Canada: Hundreds of Kids in Sex Trade

Activist Jane Runner says the youngest Winnipeg
child prostitute she's heard of was 8, but the average age is 13.

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA -- Hundreds of vulnerable Winnipeg children, some as young as eight years old, are selling their bodies to adult men for money, drugs and even food and shelter, a provincial inquest was told Monday.

But Winnipeg police say there's very little they can do about it.

Det.-Sgt. Jeff Coates candidly admitted the most heinous sex offenders -- adults who prey on young children -- are largely going unpunished because police lack the resources and ability to go after them. Instead, they focus on the easier arrests, such as men targeting adult prostitutes.

"It's very frustrating. The worst of these offenders fly under the radar. The worst form of prostitution is allowed to prevail," Coates said.

"With adults, we can put officers out there in an undercover role to catch some of these johns. But we can't use an undercover 14-year-old, and there are no police officers that age. So the worst offenders aren't being prosecuted."

He called for the province and city to examine their priorities and look at a dedicated unit to deal with sexually exploited street kids, just as police have partnered with Manitoba Public Insurance to tackle auto theft.

"There needs to be a political will to dedicate resources to this," Coates said.

Coates was called to testify at the inquest of Tracia Owen, a 14-year-old girl who started working the streets in the months before her August 2005 suicide. The teen hung herself with a rope tied to the overhead door of a garage used by prostitutes behind a Victor Street house.

Manitoba's chief medical examiner called for a public inquest last year in an effort to shine a light on the growing problem of youth sexual exploitation and drug use.

"We need to tell the public about what's happening out there," said Dr. Thambirajah Balachandra. "No one wants to talk about it, but it's a rampant problem and we have to talk about it."

Jane Runner has spent the past 21 years talking to sexually exploited teens and women about their experiences on the street. She offered some sobering statistics to the court on Monday.

Runner, who heads programming at New Directions in Winnipeg, said there are "hundreds" of teen and pre-teen girls working the streets, with an even greater number abused by adults behind closed doors. The youngest she has heard of was eight, and the average age is about 13.


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