The 1991-1992 initial research, entitled "The Youngest Profession – The Oldest Oppression" was conducted with 50 young people who primarily entered the trade during adolescence. The goal was to establish that most of the youth interviewed entered the trade under the age of 18 and that there was a predominance of a history of sexual abuse before the street.
In 2000-2001, the retrospective research, entitled "Strolling Away" was conducted. Interviews with 38 individuals (28 who had been participants in the 1991-1992 research and an additional ten persons) were held to collect their thoughts on the entrance, time in, attempts and successful departures out of the trade. The opportunity to gain insights on our service delivery model in reference to prevention, intervention and reintegration was provided through these interviews.
Characteristics of Respondents
The following are the key characteristics from the respondents of "Strolling Away":
- Males entered the trade earlier on average age 12 years.
- Females entered the trade on average age 15 years.
- Males averaged 12 years in the trade.
- Females averaged six years in the trade.
- A total of 260 years of street work is represented in the 38 interviews.
- 82% of the females had a background of sexual abuse prior to the street.
- 100% of the males had a background of sexual abuse prior to the street.
- 26% of respondents were Aboriginal.
Summary of Highlights
The following are highlights from the 17 lines of inquiry that were presented to the respondents in "Strolling Away". The highlights reflect the order in which the questions were posed and recorded.
Leaving the Trade
- Everyone left the business more than once. When a person returned to the trade there was disappointment on the part of the individual, family, friends and support professionals involved.
- Leaving the trade was a cumulative learning experience. Each exit attempt brought new awareness, knowledge and experience that could be applied to the next attempt to leave the street.
- To leave the trade was often riskier than staying. Issues such as survival, potential repercussions from pimps and other street personnel overcame the desire to exit.
- Almost one-half of the males interviewed left the street ten to 15 times. These males entered the trade at a younger age, left more often and stayed longer.
- While the risks and dynamics of the trade were very different for young men and young women, the motivation of survival from both historical abuse and present abuse was similar regardless of gender.
- An overwhelming number of youth interviewed were prompted to leave the trade because of the violence experienced on the street.
- Women often left the trade due to pregnancy or the desire to be a mother. Over three-quarters of the women interviewed had become mothers.
Return to the Trade
- Money was a prime motivator to return to the street because without an education or skills, it often was the sole means of generating an income.
- Males returned to the trade because of the street acceptance of their plight and the abuse in their lives. Males have fewer options when leaving the street. They do not have the vision of birthing a child and they also face the stigma of men having sex with men, even if this is not their sexual preference.
Preventing a Return
- Leaving the street was challenging as the individuals faced issues of: lack of support, lack of self worth, a perception that it was too risky to exit and boredom.
- Many individuals said they were not sure that their last trick was or would be the last one.
- The departure from the street was a process as opposed to a specific event.
Decision Last Trick
- Enough was enough was a key reason for exiting. The catalyst to depart was the never-ending day after day experience.
- The street was viewed as short-term gain but long-term pain. No one entered the trade with a long-term plan to stay. This short-term solution became an obstacle that prevented a return to a normal life.
Assisted in Leaving
- Family or a support system was identified as important for individuals leaving the street. It provided those exiting with another identity and connection.
- The ability to meet people not involved in prostitution was important. These relationships served to counteract the desire to drift back to street friends.
- There had to be a purpose in the process of leaving the street, such as: the pursuit of a goal, having a baby, someone to trust, gaining employment or seeking a stable lifestyle.
Assisted Not Returning
- Leaving the street was a different process than not returning to the street. What assisted an individual in deciding to leave the street could be different than what assisted them in not returning to the street.
- A successful departure meant no contact or association with individuals involved in the street.
- Having someone who relied on you prevented a return to the street.
- As males grew older, they recognized the need to escape the street, to move on to other things and to find a life outside the sexual exploitation trade.
- Males have had a need to find a safe, flexible living environment to prevent a return to the street.
Turning First Trick
- The entire research population saw prostitution as something no one should do.
- Those interviewed saw their street experience of prostitution as a form of repeated abuse.
Missing the Street
- Over half of those interviewed identified money as the predominant feature missed as it provided instant independence.
- An attraction into sexual exploitation was the belief of having control to select who, where, when and what activity.
- Over half of this population were involved as children in Social Services Child Protection.
- Youth involved in the sex trade had very little training or job options.
- The camaraderie on the street provided a support network for all involved in the trade.
- The likelihood of returning to the street was always a possibility even if it was a short-term solution to earn quick money.
- Money was more important to females than males as a motivator to return to the street. With over three-quarters of women in this sample having had children, financial need to support children was critical.
- Quick, non-taxable, non-traceable cash through prostitution became a solution.
- Males experienced loneliness after leaving the street. It was possible that the role and significance of childbirth for young women took care of the female need of self-fulfilment and recognition. Males did not have the opportunity to have their own personal role redefined by the birth of a child.
- Individuals were self sufficient while in the trade. While in many cases they had to hand their earnings over to their pimp, their immediate food, shelter and clothing needs were covered.
- Moving away and establishing distance from the "street supports" were important.
- Discovery and learning to live away from the street confronted each person when exiting.
- The street persona created to survive in the trade often became an impediment when accessing education, employment and rebuilding personal and family relationships.
- Personal relationships were uncharted waters for individuals who left the trade.
- Balanced, healthy relationships were foreign to this population.
- A one-day-at-a-time approach was commonplace.
- Individuals departed with both physical and emotional scars. Many interviewed had become disillusioned with their personal choices. They questioned their self-worth given their decision to enter the trade.
Thinking About the Street
- Nearly all of those interviewed believed that the street was not a positive environment.
- Eighty-four percent of those interviewed had experienced sexual abuse before the street and often this prior sexual abuse contributed to an entry onto the street.
- After exiting, individuals were frequently overcome with memories of abuse as small children and on the street. These individuals believed the street to be abusive and self-deprecating.
- In a strange way, the street protected the victims of prior sexual abuse from dealing with or resolving what they had experienced earlier in their lives. By coming to terms with the abuse on the streets, the unresolved prior sexual abuse often resurfaced.
Thoughts on Departing
- While services are provided to individuals who are on the street, there is little long-term assistance for the exiting process.
Surprise Findings upon Leaving the Street
- One-quarter of the females in the sample identified the departure as a long journey.
- Close to one-quarter of the males and females interviewed were shocked that they were able to leave and live a life beyond the street.
- Close to one-quarter of the males and females interviewed had experienced negative encounters once they left the street. They were not expecting untrusting behaviour to occur off the street.
- Saving or hiding money, intensive cleansing and disassociation during sexual activity were identified as rituals.
Off the Street
- No one in the research population was still working in the sexual exploitation trade full-time.
Supply & Demand
A major observation from "Strolling Away" was that if the goal is to eliminate the sexual exploitation of youth involved in prostitution, then society must work towards decreasing demand for sexually exploited youth.
During the interviews, young people spoke about the continual flow of customers wanting to purchase their services. This flow often prevented and interfered with a successful exit from the trade. A need exists to alter the demand for such services.
Success has been achieved in creating awareness and prevention education for family violence, sexual abuse and assault, smoking and drinking and driving.
The only long-term solution is to design prevention materials that educate and create an understanding with adult males of all ages that the sex trade is a form of sexual abuse. With education, there is the possibility that males would begin to change their attitude and beliefs about this kind of activity. The framework has to be altered from "The Oldest Profession" to "The Youngest Profession – The Oldest Oppression".
Our objective should be to decrease the demand, which in turn will lead to a decrease in the price of these services and a subsequent decrease in the availability of these services.
This premise provides a solution to eliminating the demand for the services of sexually exploited youth.
Summary of Recommendations
The last section of this research study features concluding discussions complete with related recommendations. These recommendations are influenced and guided by the previously noted highlights from the interviews.
National Research Study on Males
- That a national research study on males involved in the sexual exploitation trade be undertaken.
Supply and Demand Equation
- That attention is directed toward decreasing the demand for the sexual exploitation trade.
- That prevention information is directed towards young women and men by young people.
- That a national ad campaign be designed with a clear message that prostitution is a form of sexual abuse and that potential customers will be viewed as sexual abusers.
- That education material is directed towards parents so they may begin to teach their children at a young age that prostitution is a form of sexual abuse.
Youth and Caregiver Education
- That reality-based prevention materials be developed for youth and parents/caregivers.
- That education material is designed on the process and challenges of leaving the street for youth and parents/caregivers.
- That parent/caregiver support groups be established to support parents/caregivers whose children have just entered the trade.
- That a Support Team be established to assist youth when exiting the trade.
- That all-inclusive one-stop service packages be designed for those leaving the trade.
- That reality based re-integration materials be developed for those individuals who are attempting to re-integrate into society.
- That a volunteer-run service support line be established for those leaving the street.
- That there is professional and parental/caregiver understanding that the challenge begins once a person leaves the street.
- That ongoing counselling support is available to this population to assist them in dealing with the street abuse and prior abuse in their lives.
- That various street outreach programs across the country be seen as safe, exempt and neutral programs to support youth.
- That an evaluation occurs of harm reduction approaches to working with sexually exploited youth.
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