A group of students from Mount Royal University are hoping a two day conference on sexual exploitation will help to bring a greater awareness to the issue and advocate change.

The Sexual Exploitation Awareness Conference and Resource Fair is being presented in partnership with Hull Services and eight students from MRU are responsible for planning, organizing and facilitating the event.

“We have a lot of youth in our community who have experienced sexual exploitation, there’s a lot of really vulnerable youth, and it’s really a topic that’s kind of filled with stigma and taboo and a lot of people are really uncomfortable talking about it or they think that it’s not really happening in our city," said Bryan Hume, from Hull Services. “The students and myself, along with some of our other partners, have really contributed to the development of a conference, a two-day conference, to explore and learn and advocate for youth who have experienced issues that centre around sexual exploitation.”

The goal of the conference is to:

  • Explore the extent of sexual exploitation in the province
  • Learn to recognize those at risk
  • Generate support to create change

Sheldon Kennedy spoke to the conference in the Leacock Theatre on Monday and says he thinks the key is education and awareness.

 “We need to create a community approach to this stuff and a lot of times we work in silos and what we need to do is connect the dots and work as one and I feel that our best defence is knowledge so really it’s an opportunity for the next two days for the professionals that do this work to communicate and collaborate and hopefully find ways to work together,” said Kennedy. “I think the whole focus is about making the invisible, visible. In other words, making visible through good data and good science and connect the dots because forever, what we do is we’re trying to put out the fire and how do we prevent that fire from happening and if it does happen out here, how do we prevent it from getting started?”

He says Alberta spends about $24.2B a year on child abuse and we need to create a system and culture to help agencies do their work and keep kids from getting hurt.

“The magnitude of online crime, kids being exploited, human trafficking across our country is absolutely huge. People have no idea, I can tell you the numbers are staggering,” he said. “It’s real and we can’t afford not to change the way we do this work, early intervention prevention, because its unsustainable fiscally to keep working at the outer layer of the onion,” said Kennedy.

According to police, the average age of children and youth currently being exploited in the province is 13.5 years old.

“Unfortunately sexual exploitation is occurring right in the community where we live,” said CPS S/Sgt Martin Schiavetta, “On any given day in Calgary, we have between 300 and 500 unique ads on the Internet, where victims, who are being exploited, are selling themselves in exchange for money and unfortunately a lot of these people who are doing it are minors.”

Schiavetta says Calgary police apprehended over 30 young people last year who were selling themselves or being exploited by others.

“So the most important thing with a conference like this is to bring light to the issue, it is happening, and to focus on the resources that are available. A lot of people who are exploiting themselves or are being exploited have mental health issues, they have addiction issues, they may have problems at home, they may be living on the street so its important that we identify that it is happening and that there are resources to help them exit this lifestyle and a conference like this brings people together to talk about these issues,” said Schiavetta.

For more information on the Sexual Exploitation Awareness Conference and Resource Fair, click HERE.