The potential for education to counteract Indigenous sex trade recruitment

Young, Indigenous women are significantly overrepresented in sexual exploitation in Canada. Despite comprising between two to five percent of the population in western Canadian cities, Indigenous women represent more than half of victims of sexually exploited youth in these areas. Numerous factors compound to make Indigenous women and girls, some as young as 7 to 13, at an extremely high-risk of becoming part of the sex trade.

Dr. Dustin Louie’s research focused on understanding the complexity of Indigenous girls entering the sexual exploitation, as seen from their own perspective, and on designing education initiatives that may help prevent them from becoming recruited in the first place. Working with an outreach program in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Dr. Louie interviewed nineteen staff members, and five Indigenous women who have survived the sex trade. These interviews provided insights into the common experiences and factors leading to sex trade recruitment for Indigenous girls in the area.

Increased Threat

Various life experiences increase the threat of exploitation for Indigenous girls, including sexual abuse, transitioning from reserves, substance abuse, and poverty. Indigenous girls are often recruited by gangs, boyfriends, social media, females connected to the sex trade, and through on-reserve targeted recruitment.

Girls may also enter the sexual exploitation out of necessity, in order to meet their basic needs. A lack of adequate housing, food, and transportation may result in these girls having their first experience in the exploitation. For many, the girls may not recognize this behavior as related to exploitation until years later. Far from exclusive, multiple factors are often at play simultaneously, making the recruitment process a multifaceted problem.

Prevention Education

While intervention services are available for those already exploited, Dr. Louie focuses his work on how education can help prevent girls from falling victim to sexual exploitation recruitment. Schools can play an essential role in helping young girls identify potential recruitment, and supporting them in avoiding

By working with Indigenous girls aged 7-13 in on-reserve schools, teachers, female community members, elders, role models, and service providers can teach preventative strategies using love, engagement, patience, and understanding. Dr. Louie advocates for including families in this process as much as possible, applying local cultural education and Indigenous ways of knowing.

Dr. Louie calls for school boards to recognize the importance of addressing targeted populations who are in the age of recruitment. Partnerships between social services, on-reserve school systems, and families can create a network of care and opportunities to address the realities of sexual exploitation recruitment for these girls.

See more from Dr. Dustin Louie on his profile

 Connected Citations

Louie, D. (2016). Preventative education for Indigenous girls vulnerable to the sex trade (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Calgary, Alberta.

In the Media

CBC News. (2016). 5 ways education could produce a brighter future for Indigenous people

CBC News. (2016). Dustin Louie: Respect the girls

UCalgary UToday. (2016). How can we prevent indigenous girls from entering the sex trade?