More resources needed to battle child exploitation: inquest
Police can do little to stop the sexual exploitation of children on Winnipeg streets, an officer testified Monday at the inquest into the death of 14-year-old Tracia Owen.
Winnipeg police Det.-Sgt. Jeff Coates, who has extensive experience with the service's sex-crimes unit, told the inquest that many children as young as 11 and 12 are on streets late at night.
Coates said the job is too big, and there are not enough resources and people to do it.
Because they don't have a unit that particularly handles child sexual exploitation, Coates said, police can't help unless a specific complaint is filed.
Coates suggested a curfew might help keep many of those children off the streets, but added that resources would have to be increased for a curfew to be enforced.
Jane Runner, a project manager for New Directions, a Winnipeg social agency, testified that as many as 400 children are sexually exploited in Winnipeg each year, more than two-thirds of them aboriginal, and most of them runaways or children who have moved from one foster home to another.
Nearly 80 per cent of child exploitation happens indoors, she said.
Runner called for more education to streetproof teens against sexual exploitation, as well as increased resources for outreach work.
Inquest hears about Owen's last days
An aboriginal youth crisis centre, Project Neecheewam, was the last social-assistance organization to work with Owen. Owen had volunteered to help paint a mural on a building on Sherbrook Street in downtown Winnipeg.
Erica Holloway, who co-ordinated the project, testified that Owen was the most dedicated of the volunteers, and said she had tremendous influence on the mural's final appearance.
Holloway said Owen told her she was happy to be in the same program for as long as she was. Previous testimony revealed Owen had been moved through dozens of foster homes and programs in her short life.
Holloway said Owen told her she wanted to become a nurse, liked hip-hop dancing and wanted to do well in school.
Left the project
But as the summer wound down and the mural project neared completion, Holloway said, she noticed Owen acting depressed.The girl started going AWOL from the project, Holloway testified.
Holloway said she later learned from a member of the West End BIZ patrol that Owen had been seen with underage prostitutes in the area.
Holloway saw Tracia for the last time the day the mural was completed, Aug. 21, 2005, three days before the girl's body was found hanging in a garage on Victor Street in Winnipeg's West End neighbourhood.
The inquest was ordered by the province's chief medical officer to find out whether drugs or sexual exploitation were factors in her death. It will also look at how child welfare services monitored the girl's life.
Testimonywill continue Tuesday.