Manitoba's government has promised to convene a summit to examine the sexual exploitation of children — but some people in Winnipeg neighbourhoods plagued by prostitution say they already know why children end up hooking.
Word of the summit came Wednesday in response to the release of a report on the inquest into the August 2002 suicide of 14-year-old Tracia Owen. Owen had been shuffled through dozens of child-welfare placements during her life, and traded sex for money for drugs before her death.
"It started with drugs for me," said Anna Moore, standing on a street corner in Winnipeg's North End.
Although she looked more like she should be in school than working the streets, Moore claimed she was 18 and said she has been selling sex for years.
"A lady pimped me on the streets and told me I could get money for drugs, and I did it. But then I couldn't stop," she said.
Moore said she doesn't want her family to think badly of her, but said she can't stop.
Moore's is a familiar story to Margo Malabar, who lives in the neighbourhood and has worked with youth in the area.
Malabar said she watched a teenaged girl change before her eyes under similar circumstances.
"This fellow, who calls himself the sugar daddy, invited her to a party with other kids and gave her something that she didn't even know what it was — it must have been crack cocaine mixed with something else — and within no time she was on the street and hooking," she said.
"This young girl was given it for free, and then they get hooked."
More activities offering healthy choices for children in the vulnerable 10- to 14-year-old age group would help stem problems with child sexual exploitation, she said.
It's common for children as young as 11 to be offered drugs, Malabar noted.
"I can see how bright and beautiful they are, and how much potential they have, and it just seems like the odds are against them," she said.
As Malabar spoke to a CBC reporter, an expensive-looking truck pulled up to what Malabar described as a known crack house. One of the truck's occupants knocks on the house's door, disappears inside, then returns stuffing something into their pocket.
Beat police officers keeping an eye on similar houses and their visitors could also help, Malabar said.