Beyond knowing who and how someone is recruited by exploiters, this blog post addresses some indicators that sexual exploitation may be occurring. These types of behavioural changes can happen to your friends, family, colleagues, and classmates. They are often changes in attitude, behaviour, and physical appearance. If an individual is presenting several of the factors below, a trusted individual should ask further questions to explore if sexual exploitation is occurring. These changes may not necessarily be indicative of sexual exploitation, but there is likely something happening that requires careful attention.

Changes in attitude

  • Withdraws from family, friends, and extracurricular activities
  • Maintains a high level of secrecy and is hesitant to share where and with whom they have been
  • Responds to conversations as if they were reading from a practiced script
  • Unexplained mood swings
  • Angry confrontational or abusive
  • Secretive about daily routines
  • Protective of new relationships and providing little information when asked
  • Appears to fear the safety of their loved one
  • Unexplained increase of money
  • Possession of drug associated objects
  • Having a cell phone that was not originally their own
  • Owning multiple cell phones
  • Long distant phone bills
  • Large amount of condoms and condom wrappers (especially between ages 12-15)
  • Debts on bank accounts
  • Memberships to phone services

Change in behaviors

  • Comes home late or after curfew for unknown reasons
  • Disappears for extended periods of time (days, weeks, months)
  • Hangs around with new or different groups of friends, including older individuals
  • Starts wearing expensive clothing or jewelry that they cannot normally afford
  • Receives phone calls from blocked or private numbers
  • Secretive about internet usage including sites or contacts
  • Has an online relationship with someone they have never met in person
  • Has a significantly older boyfriend or girlfriend
  • Receives unexplained gifts from secret sources
  • Frequents hotels or unusual locations to meet friends
  • Adopts slang or speech that is street level talk
  • Has pre-paid calling cards, credit cards, hotel room keys, business cards
  • Has pornographic images available of themselves online
  • Has decreased or stopped attending school or work
  • Sleep deprived

Physical Abuse indicators

  • Explained bruises, cuts or broken bones
  • Black eyes
  • Tattooing or branding symbols (such as names on neck, wrists or lower back)
  • Cigarette burns on body
  • Physical scaring, scrapes or scratches

In Alberta the PESCA legislation allows social workers and police officers to intervene if a child under the age of 18 needs protection from sexual exploitation. It is not necessary to have evidence that exploitation has already occurred for a youth to be protected in Alberta.

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