Strolling Away


I can remember the first time I traded my body for money.

I don’t think I knew what a ’prostitute’ was and I certainly had no idea what a ’sexually exploited youth’ was. In fact, I don’t even think I knew I was a ’youth’. I was a child, 12 years old, had a paper route, loved video games, and like lots of 12 year olds I was at times irresponsible. One Saturday afternoon I had finished delivering the paper, collected the money and headed downtown and hit the arcade. It’s funny, I can’t remember any of my birthdays until I was 20 – but I can tell you what colour of shorts I was wearing that day. It didn’t take long as I was sliding quarters down the machine…one after another. Wouldn’t you know it though…I reach into the deeps of my pocket and what do I find, but nothing? I spent all my money. In fact I didn’t just spend my money – I spent the Windsor Star’s money. I knew right away that what I had done was wrong and also knew that my father was going to react poorly.

So when an older man asked me if I liked video games and asked why I looked so worried, I told him. He offered to have me come over and ’hang out’. I didn’t even question why someone in their twenties would want to associate with a 12 year old, all I heard was ’video games’. It wasn’t even an hour later that I first tried cocaine. That was my ’treat’ for having sex with that man. That adult. When I was a child. This led to my eventual involvement in the street trade and a chronic chemical drug addiction. It wasn’t until I was 19 that I last traded my body for money, drugs or housing.

Regularly I share this story, myhistory, in hopes that those working with boys and young men can better appreciate and understand the dynamics of gender and exploitation. Yet too often the issues that face boys and young men are overlooked or ignored. Professionals, community services and government frequently assume that the issues facing young women who are exploited are identical to those of young men. Having said this, funding, policy and program development, and direct services are often not appropriate for boys and young men.

Often, people think that the exploitation that I faced started with that man. When people ask about what brought me to the street trade several years later often they can hear that story and say, ’hmm’. They believe that it was that simple – a paedophile used a vulnerable boy. They often do not understand that what happens to young men and boys prior to being prostituted often leads them to a path of exploitation. That day, in my instance, not only was I dealing with needing money, but also an abusive home life, homosexual feelings that confused me and the self-loathing that came with these issues. There are many issues that face boys and young men, such as responding to sexual abuse, sexuality and gender identity and low self-esteem that have not been extensively researched to date.

I am happy to see in the last five years people starting to address the issue of sexual exploitation in Canada. More and more those in policy and helping roles are recognizing children involved with the commercial sex trade as victims, as opposed to criminals. Though encouraging, there still is a perception in Canada, not only from the public, but also from government and service providers as well that sexually exploited youth equals young girls. Harry[5]

[5] Harry was a participant in "Strolling Away."

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