Know the Signs

It is difficult to paint a picture of a vulnerable youth and not create panic in parents. However, there are things parents and caregivers, teachers and peers can look for that may indicate a youth is potentially at risk of sexual exploitation. Take a pro-active approach by educating yourself on the subject and be willing to talk openly about sexual exploitation.

All young people will exhibit some of these behaviours at one time or another. However, if there are several changes and they are ongoing, conversations about high-risk activities should be undertaken.

Attitude

The young person:

  • withdraws physically and emotionally from home and family, is cold and disconnected
  • has extreme mood swings
  • is secretive and reserved
  • lies about where he or she was or is going
  • is manipulative
  • is confrontational, aggressive or provocative
  • engages in abusive behaviour or language
  • excludes parent or caregiver through body language or verbal abuse

Routine

The young person:

  • drops usual friends for a new group that includes youth from other schools or communities and who may be older
  • skips school
  • has a significant drop in grades
  • opts out of traditional family events
  • becomes a night person, stays out late, is unable to sleep at night or sleeps excessively during the day

Language

The young person:

  • adopts slang (street talk) never used before
  • uses disconnected speech (one or two-word codes)
  • uses labels when referring to friends or self (i.e. adopting street names)
  • often chooses to not communicate at all

Physical appearance and hygiene

The young person:

  • dresses more provocatively or has a sudden change in style of dress
  • uses more makeup and time than usual getting ready to go out
  • exhibits sexualized behaviour (inappropriate sexual acting out or displaying of body parts)
  • has bruises or other signs of abuse on body
  • changes physical appearance (hair color, piercing, tattoos)

Clues around the house

The young person:

  • has unexplained money
  • has new and expensive clothing or trinkets with explanations that don’t add up
  • packs a change of clothes when going out
  • has drug paraphernalia (cans with holes, burnt knives, twisted spoons, rolling papers, small balls of tinfoil, small baggies)
  • acquires a cell phone from an unknown source
  • has long distance phone bills for cell numbers or numbers that don’t show up on call display
  • has matchbook covers with phone numbers inside
  • has business cards and receipts from places that are unusual for young teens to visit
  • receives phone calls from strangers at odd hours of the night or receives hang up phone calls
  • has many condom packages
  • has weapons
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