The Manitoba government has released a research report on sexual exploitation that will guide the Tracia’s Trust strategy to help vulnerable young Manitobans.

“It is horrific to read that children in Manitoba are being violently victimized and lured into the sex trade for reasons such as money, food, shelter or drugs,” said Families Minister Heather Stefanson. “Our sexual exploitation unit hears about hundreds of trafficking and exploitation cases every year. Even more shocking, a majority of cases are invisible, behind closed doors or online, so a large number of these hidden crimes go unreported.”

The province launched its sexual exploitation strategy in 2002 and renamed it in 2008 to Tracia’s Trust in memory of Tracia Owen, a 14-year-old who was sexually exploited and died by suicide in 2005. Annually, the strategy provides approximately $10 million to many non-governmental organizations and interdepartmental initiatives related to prevention, intervention and service co-ordination, along with 12 regional teams that provide education, training and awareness.

To guide the strategy forward, the province launched its first research project in 2016 and has produced a report, Collaboration and Best Practices on Ending Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking in Manitoba. It is based on qualitative and quantitative analysis, relevant case studies from 2011 to 2016 and input from focus groups and consultation with 54 organizations, stakeholders, front-line service providers, community members, elders, law enforcement and exploited Manitobans.

“Sexual exploitation and sex trafficking go hand in hand with the ongoing tragedy of murdered and missing Indigenous women, girls and boys in our communities from coast to coast,” said Mae Louise Campbell, community elder and advisory committee member of the research report. “We are exhausted and deeply saddened by the continued existence of these horrific violations of human rights. As this report highlights, our current systems need to be transformed and are in need of Indigenous-led solutions. The honour and respect of these recommendations in this report is of critical importance to prevent sexual exploitation in our Indigenous communities, province and beyond.”

The research report includes comments from many stakeholders, in their own words, speaking with expertise and experience on issues such as exploitation, trafficking and what is happening in Manitoba today, the minister noted. As one person said: “I don’t think everyone fully understands sexual exploitation and I don’t think that they realize what it is that’s right in front of them, there needs to be more education and understanding.”

The report looked at reasons for exploitation, education, caregivers, the role of men and boys, social media and the culture of purchasing sex. It examined co-occurring challenges among exploited youth, such as learning disabilities and mental health conditions, as well as connections to First Nations communities and vulnerability of newcomers to Canada. The report notes a need for earlier detection, as eight year olds have found to be exploited, well below the average age of 15 years old according to Manitoba case studies.

The report recommendations include:

  • a robust strategy to address online exploitation and trafficking,
  • additional supports for adults who aged out of the child welfare system and are at risk of exploitation,
  • a substance abuse treatment model with emphasis on methamphetamine,
  • a reform of specialized placements and resources to better support exploited youth by addressing factors such as addictions and mental health, and
  • ongoing collaboration with urban and rural stakeholders about Tracia’s Trust.

“This report helps us better understand how often sex trafficking and sexual exploitation is happening in Manitoba, the needs of those who have been exploited and the barriers that keep them away from the help they need,” said Stefanson. “Our government is already acting on these recommendations in areas such as substance abuse treatment. Sexual exploitation and human trafficking are urgent issues that require proactive, co-ordinated efforts across government departments and in the community.”

The minister noted the province is currently evaluating the StreetReach program under Tracia’s Trust. The program combines child welfare agencies, non-government partners and law enforcement to work with high-risk victims, identify offenders, locate exploited children and intervene immediately.

The complete report and information about Tracia’s Trust is online.