Saskatoon has been called the child prostitution capitol of Canada. Recognizing that it has a moral and legal obligation to protect its children, the City of Saskatoon set up the Mayor’s Task Force on Child Prostitution in Saskatoon. As part of this task force, Saskatoon Communities for Children established the Working Group to Stop the Sexual Exploitation of Children (hereafter cited as Working Group).
In Evaluation of the Activities of the Working Group to Stop the Sexual Exploitation of Children, Wendy MacDermott identifies the Working Group’s strengths and weaknesses, provides recommendations for improving its services, and details some of the Working Group’s accomplishments. “The Working Group,” MacDermott writes, “was developed because it was believed that existing legislation that mandated charging and incarcerating sexually exploited children was harmful, rather than helpful” (p.6). Instead, the Working Group argues for greater deterrence and punishment for johns and increased opportunities for youths to leave the sex trade. These youth and children should be made more aware of their legal rights and have greater access to social services. Existing outreach groups play a vital role, often representing the only positive contact that these children have with adults. However, funding for these programs is perpetually in jeopardy and the outreach workers are greatly underpaid. The result is high turnover and only short-term connections with street kids. The Safe House also serves as a refuge and transition services for children trying to leave the streets, but it too suffers from insufficient resources, as well as limited capacity and age restrictions.
One means of combating child sexual exploitation involves the use of posters and signs to discourage sexual predators and johns. While there is anecdotal evidence of this tactic’s success, there is no reliable means of measuring its effectiveness. The Working Group also created a video, It’s Not Child Prostitution, It’s Child Sexual Abuse, which has been shown in workshops, classrooms, and on television. The positive feedback from those who have viewed this video suggests a benefit in financing further videos. Parent Patrols—groups of concerned citizens walking the stroll during evenings to scare off johns—have also had some positive results, but suffer from high turnover.
In a section evaluating the internal structure and makeup of the Working Group, MacDermott praises its diversity, particularly the inclusion of youth formerly in the sex trade. On the other hand, the Working Group suffers from high turnover, problems with scheduling meetings , and conflicting mandates from their parent organization (for example, police representatives are mandated to the criminalization of those in the sex trade, whereas others seek to provide aid and services to these youth). And, like other service groups, the Working Group suffers from a lack of funding.
While each of these groups and services can point to anecdotal evidence of their successes, their problems are quite similar, namely lack of funding and impermanent membership . The aims of these groups and individuals are undeniably vital and need greater support from Saskatoon’s residents and both provincial and civic governments.