by Mark Bourrie
(IPS) OTTAWA --
percent of child and teen prostitutes in some of Canada's major cities are Native, a government-sponsored NGO report has found.
The 97-page report, called "Sacred Lives," says the Native community is being preyed upon by pimps and pedophiles who lure impoverished children into the sex trade. Child prostitution is also fostered by racist attitudes and government policies that have fostered cultural breakdown, the report says.
The study, which includes interviews with 150 Native youth who have been sexually exploited, says it is vital for them to re-establish cultural connections.
The report was done by Save the Children Canada and the federal government and released here in December. It was written by Cherry Kingsley and Melanie Mark, who interviewed youths caught up in the sex trade in major cities across Canada.
"In some communities, the visible sex trade is over 90 percent aboriginal. This serious over-representation is directly linked to the unacceptable and continuing high level of risk factors which this population faces," the report says
One Native youth quoted in the report, says: "My abusers were abused; their abusers were abused, down the line. We're all hurting in one way or another, and I think that's why the cycle continues and turns."
Kingsley and Mark, who are both indigenous Canadians, travelled across the country for five months to collect information for the study.
"It was a really haunting, gruelling experience," Kingsley said. "These young people came forward with the hope things would be different and they deserve a response."
The report recommends a series of round-table discussions and building a national youth network.
"There's no sex trade in the world that can survive unless we let it collectively, and it's thriving. It's in every community," said Kingsley, a former prostitute who is now a child rights advocate. "We need to move on this issue ... because it's a form of slavery, one of the worst forms of exploitation and abuse. I have survived this issue. I know it to be true."
In their report, Kingsley and Mark say solutions developed for non-Native prostitutes cannot help Natives. They say Canada needs to appoint a board of government officials, Native leaders and youth who have been involved in prostitution to draft a national strategy.
They say solutions designed to help get non-Native prostitutes off the streets do not work for Native youths.
To prove their point, the researchers quoted several of the young Native prostitutes they encountered.
"I grew up feeling I had no worth," one youth told the researchers. "I didn't put any worth on myself because I wasn't worth anything. I'd given it free for how many past years of my life, so that's how I went about it."
Another female prostitute in Winnipeg, where more than 90 percent of sex trade workers are Native, said: "I lost my virginity to rape, and I was consistently abused by my mother. I was ashamed of myself, who I was, what I looked like and when I met this man he was the world to me. He said, 'Oh, you're so pretty,' and I fell for it."
The solution, according to the young prostitutes, is simple: Getting help from other Natives who have gone through similar experiences and know how to get out.
"You don't want to go some place and have a suit sitting there saying 'Come over here and talk to me, I'll fix you'. You know what? I'm just going to walk out the door and never come back... (Suits) have never been on the streets to the point where they're dirty and gross and smelly and stinky and hurting," a young girl from Vancouver said.
international report last November suggested a lack of government planning is turning Canada into a hot spot for the sexual exploitation of children. The report, compiled by Campaign 2000, an anti-poverty coalition of 80 national, community and provincial organizations, says 1.3 million Canadian children live below the poverty line 400,000 more than a decade ago.
Families living below the poverty line spend more than 55 percent of their income on food, shelter and clothing, according to Campaign 2000's definition.
"We have political parties all promising to one-up each other on tax cuts," said Laurel Rothman, national coordinator for Campaign 2000. "Yet one in five of our children is still living in poverty."
It also criticized the Canadian government for failing to deliver on a commitment to develop a plan to stop the victimization of children made in 1996 at the World Congress Against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Stockholm. Kingsley was one of three former child prostitutes to share their stories with the world there.
Senator Landon Pearson, who has worked on the report and is advising the government on youth issues, said one of the biggest problems facing Native prostitutes is racism.
"Whoever the customers are, they find it easier to commodify these kids, instead of someone who reminds them of their daughter."
Pearson said the Canadian government is willing to offer money to help solve the problem, but that the solutions must come from within the Native community.
Matthew Coon Come, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said the report shows discrimination has had a tremendous impact on the self-esteem and vulnerability of Native youth.
February 12, 2001 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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