A type of "tough love" is aimed at keeping youth safe and away from sexual predators. But is confinement, the best strategy for Alberta's exploited youth?
Part of Paul Rubner's job, as a vice unit Calgary police officer, is meeting with the parents of children who are being sexually exploited.
"It's a very difficult conversation to have with a mother or a father when they call up and we go and see them, sometimes in their home, and they show us photos of their teenage daughter having sex with an unknown male." said Rubner.
In some cases, under age teens are trading sex just for a place to sleep.
"Be it cigarettes, bus passes, clothing, a place to stay, food, shelter. And those are all situations that we've encountered," added Rubner.
In most severe cases, exploited teens are apprehended and placed in a safe house. And the Protection of Sexually Exploited Children Act (PSECA) gives police and social workers the power to detain victims up to 47 days. They can also be confined multiple times, if necessary.
"The purpose of the confinement is primarily to keep other people out. It's not unusual for them to be texting their pimp or person controlling them during their health care examination in emergency," said Cathy Carter-Snell, associate professor at the Mount Royal University School of Nursing.
"We've had kids as young as 12, which is quite dramatic when you think about what's going on around sexual exploitation of a 12-year-old," added Bryan Hume, a safe house coordinator.
It's estimated there are as many as 500 youth being exploited in Calgary alone. But in Alberta, there are only 11 safe houses. That's a concern for frontline workers.
"If knowledge about this legislation gets to where it needs to be, and if those people that are tasked with protecting the youth start recognizing the signs and start recognizing the youth that are at risk and are being actively exploited, then I don't think 11 beds will be sufficient," said Rubner.
"It's one of the greatest challenges we face here in the province of Alberta," added Norm Welch, a senior manager with Alberta Child & Family Services.
"We're dealing with human beings here, and they're an ever changing, ever evolving entity, and its so difficult to say 11 is the right number," he said.
In addition, a large portion of exploited youth suffer from mental health issues. But it's not clear if they're getting the help they need.
"The steps that are there have been very positive in their intent - we have very little data about the effectiveness of it," said Carter-Snell.
"Is it that they just don't return to sexual activities? Is it that they just don't use drugs? That they're cured from mental illness? So what are the measures of effectiveness? So we don't have that."
The province is now searching for a way to better help Alberta's youth.
"What we've currently looking at doing is exploring different ways of delivering mental health services, including focusing on areas of trauma, child and brain development, as well as loss and grief, across the population of children that we serve; both the PSECA clientele as well as the main stream intervention," said Welch.
2015-09-16 - Tracy Nagai - Global News Reporter