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Offering help in a situation of sexual exploitation

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When an adolescent or young adult who is close to you is a victim of sexual exploitation

All situations involving sexual exploitation have one truth in common: what is happening is the fault of the exploiter, not the victim. There are many resources available to victims who want to take steps to extract themselves from a situation of exploitation.

Friends and family members who want to help them can also benefit from support services. Sexual exploitation affects the community; it takes a village to help a victim.

When you suspect that something is wrong

It is difficult to imagine that one of our friends or children could be involved in a situation of sexual exploitation or subjected to any form of violence. If you suspect that something is wrong, it is important to be kind and caring in order to preserve the connection you have with the victim—or to re-establish it.

In certain cases, the victim’s connection with their loved ones has suffered—maybe because they have changed their behaviour and are no longer recognizable. These changes, which can provoke incomprehension, frustration and annoyance in those who are close to the victim, are often the outward expression of a self-protection mechanism in response to suffering. Victims may, for example, adopt at-risk behaviours such as drug use or self-harm, drastically change their appearance, lie, shut themselves off completely, etc.

By showing compassion and attempting to relieve the victim’s feelings of guilt, you will help to create the safe space they need to confide in you. Although you may desperately want to understand what is happening, it is important not to ask too many questions or confront them, as doing so may make them feel you are judging them. They may refuse to answer your questions because they feel ashamed or guilty or because they simply want to protect you.

Being kind and caring means:

  • not judging
  • respecting the other person’s rhythm
  • not imposing solutions
  • being available to listen
  • providing resources. 
If a victim of sexual exploitation confides in you

When a victim of sexual exploitation begins to talk about what they are going through, their words may be vague or confused because they are ashamed or afraid of how others will react. That is why it is so important to remain open and ready to listen, to believe them and to respect their rhythm.

It is completely normal to react emotionally when we find out that that someone we love is caught up in a dangerous situation. Family and friends can feel overcome, powerless and angry as they try to make sense of an incomprehensible situation. Be careful when asking questions to avoid overwhelming the victim or making them feel judged. If your emotions cause you to react strongly by raising your voice and blaming the victim—even indirectly—you may discourage them from opening up further. It is perfectly all right to express your concern, but it must be done without judgement.

Telling them that the situation is not their fault, or that they did the right thing by confiding in you are the sort of kind, caring words that can reassure the victim and encourage them to seek help.

To be truly able to listen to someone you love and to show that you understand and are available, you may need to make use of the support offered to the family and friends of victims.

Helping someone escape a situation of sexual exploitation

The person who has revealed that they are a victim of sexual exploitation has already shown a great deal of strength in taking the first step to get out their situation.

Although victims can react differently based on their experience, they all need to be heard and believed. Depending on their history and situation, a victim may need somewhere to stay, detox services, legal support or psychological support. In the short term, they need help to ensure their safety; in the long term, they need support in rebuilding their life.

Depending on the complexity of the circumstances, a victim may also need to make several attempts to extract themselves from their situation of sexual exploitation. In such cases, the person who wants to help them must avoid judging them. It is important to be there at every stage in the process and to maintain the connection of trust. If you try to control the victim in order to protect them, you risk reproducing the same power dynamic that exists between the victim and their exploiter.

To truly support the victim in their recovery, you need to follow their rhythm without imposing solutions or issuing ultimatums.

Parents can be pillers of strength for a child caught up in a situation of sexual exploitation. Resources are available to help them find solutions for their loved one. Depending on the circumstances, the victim may need help finding new activities that will allow them to flourish and take back control of ther life, or making new plans for the future to rebuild their self-confidence. It is crucial to maintain contact and trust at all times.

Everyone needs help, even those who are used to dealing with their problems on their own.

There are various resources that are ready to support people who want to help a loved one and accompany them through the process of recovery. They can also provide them with tools to help them better understand what the victim is going through, as well as a space to talk about their own concerns.