Justice Institute of B.C.

What is sexual exploitation?

Sexual exploitation is the sexual abuse of children and youth through the exchange of sex or sexual acts for drugs, food, shelter, protection, other basics of life, and/or money. Sexual exploitation includes involving children and youth in creating pornography and sexually explicit websites. While the Criminal Code of Canada defines sexually exploited youth as under 18 years of age, the Child, Family and Community Service Act is applicable to youth under age 19. Therefore, youth who are under 19 years old are able to access services through the Ministry of Children and Family Development. 

Other terms that are used to talk about sexual exploitation are “child prostitution” and “youth sex trade”.  We use the terms “sexual exploitation” or “commercial sexual exploitation” to acknowledge that the use of children and youth for sexual acts is abuse and is inherently exploitative. 

While youth may not use the term “sexual exploitation” to talk about involvement in the sex trade, this is the way that it is framed under the law.  Many sexually exploited youth face realities of drug use, homelessness, past trauma, and other factors which have lead them in to the survival sex trade.  Other youth may have no such history and may have been lured, tricked or forced in to being sexually exploited.  Regardless of their personal history and life experience, it is important to respect the identities of these youth while also recognizing that any sex act between youth and adults is abuse.

Internationally, some sexually exploited children and youth are victims of human trafficking, that is they have been moved across borders through force or coercion for the purposes of sexual exploitation.  For more information on human trafficking, see the Department of Justice Canada website.

Legal Information

Sexual exploitation is defined by various legal documents that define who qualifies as a “youth”, and how youth are treated differently than adults when involved in the sex trade.  For more information on the legal and governmental distinctions between sexually exploited youth and adult sex work, please see the following sites.

The Criminal Code of Canada defines the age of a youth as under the age of 18 years.

The legal age to give consent to engage in sexual activity is 14 years.  The age of consent for anal sex is 18.

However, when a youth is under 18 years of age, it is a crime for an individual to exchange money or anything else of consideration for sexual acts with that youth, as outlined in Section 212(4) of the Criminal Code of Canada.

Several provincial governments have put forth legislation to protect exploited youth through voluntary services, and in Alberta through the use of involuntary services. In BC, the Child, Family and Community Service Act outlines measures for protecting and supporting sexually exploited youth through services funded by the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

Bill C-2:  is an Act for the protection of children and other vulnerable witnesses.  This new law will significantly increase penalties for those who abuse children and encourages the use of special accommodations for children and other vulnerable witnesses in giving their testimony.  For more information on Bill C-2 visit the website for the Department of Justice Canada

For general information on the legal system, see the following sites:

The Law Courts Education Society

The People’s Law School


United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

This international human rights convention is one of the most important documents upon which children’s rights are founded internationally and in Canada.

Child Rights Information Network

View the sexual exploitation section for more information on the UN Convention and related children’s rights issues.

Dealing with Issues of Sexual Exploitation: A Guide for Parents (PDF english)

The sexual exploitation of young girls and boys for profit is a complex social issue, and is particularly distressing for the parents of these youth. This guidebook from the McCreary Youth Foundation is intended to provide support, hope and helpful advice for parents who are trying to cope with this crisis in their families, as well as caregivers, such as guardians and foster parents. (PDF translations available in Punjabi, Simple Chinese, Traditional Chinese and Vietnamese )

CASEY Online website

This website provides basic information about sexual exploitation in BC, in addition to their other projects.

Child Rights Information Network

Visit this website for up to date information on international conventions outlining the rights of children and youth.  They provide links to relevant United Nations documents and reports from international summits.

Children of the Street Society

Visit Children of the Street Society’s website to learn more about sexual exploitation, including information about recruitment, realities of being in the sex trade, barriers to exiting, and what to do if your child goes missing or is involved in sexual exploitation.  Resources are available in many languages.

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