List of 48 recommendations vanish from final report on sexually exploited teens
‘Government does need to get moving on this’: advocate
A research report aimed at stemming sexual exploitation and trafficking of children and youth took three years for the Manitoba government to complete but sometime between the draft version and final publication, a list of 48 recommendations vanished, CBC News has learned.
What's left in the study released earlier this year as part of Tracia's Trust — Manitoba's provincial strategy to prevent sexual exploitation — is a slew of problems with few specific solutions.
"It's not enough, that's absolutely just a whitewash," said opposition justice critic Nahanni Fontaine, "[It's] not going to get the job done and actually I would suggest to you, is actually putting children at risk when you think that it is okay to just dilute those really critical and important recommendations."
The report said there are about 400 known cases of children and youth as young as 12 years old who are sexually exploited and trafficked in Manitoba every year. Experts believe that figure represents 10 per cent of the total number of victims. And the report says methamphetamine use in this group is increasing year after year.
"Kids are out there struggling with their addictions and being exploited," said Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth, Daphne Penrose. Her office was one of 54 organizations that participated in the study.
"These are massive findings in here and certainly good information and certainly inform a lot of changes that could be made. And some of those changes are going to be quite significant," said Penrose.
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A draft of the report leaked to CBC News contained a list of 48 recommendations for change including concrete solutions such as:
- Reduce caseloads for social workers who are helping exploited kids.
- Expand StreetReach—a specialized unit that goes out and finds at-risk and missing kids and brings them to safety.
- Devise a long-term strategy for hotels and taxis to take action to prevent sex exploitation and trafficking.
But the version the government released replaced those recommendations with 23 bullet points labelled "opportunities moving forward."
It is difficult to tell what new steps will be taken as nearly half of the points start with the word "continue," including "continue general education and training curriculum development" and "continue training in the area of sexual abuse investigation."
The government says it will "use and expand existing resources, and develop and implement new policies and procedures" to deal with key issues identified in the report including online exploitation, adults who are trafficked and substance abuse treatment for kids on meth.
Developing a clear timeline to ensure accountability for all initiatives under Tracia's Trust was one of the recommendations that was removed.
"Governments of all stripes are unlikely to accept recommendations of specified acts within specified time periods because it creates too defined a measure of accountability," said University of Manitoba professor emeritus Paul Thomas.
The report released by government makes no mention about how it will track when actions will be taken.
"It's harder for opposition parties and media critics and advocacy groups to track your performance and point out ways you have fallen short of your commitments," said Thomas.
In a written statement, Minister of Families Heather Stefanson, whose department is in charge of implementing the strategy says "the final report did not use the title 'recommendations' so it would not appear government was making recommendations to itself."
In fact, the government does make two explicit recommendations to itself: repurposing existing funding for the strategy and collaborating with other groups and agencies.
Tracia's Trust provides approximately $10 million a year to fund prevention, intervention, research and evaluation.
Strategy has 'stalled'
New Directions manager Jane Runner has been part of Manitoba's strategy to end sexual exploitation and trafficking from day one, since it was launched in Manitoba in 2002.
She says the strategy has been stalled for the past five years and the government needs to act now.
"Every day children are being sexually exploited. They're being abused. Their safety is in jeopardy. It's a huge child protection issue that needs to be addressed," said Runner.
"If we don't see action within the next month or so, that is concerning because the report's been released since January," said Runner. "We had one meeting with government just to discuss it. But now it's months later. So government does need to get moving on this."
The fear of government inaction was raised in the report by an unnamed participant.
"Some of the concern with the government is – great ideas go to die a bit and so – this [report] has the potential ... to come up with some actual strategies. And I think it uh has the potential … to be disheartening for people to come and share their story, and then have it go nowhere, so I hope this is a great success."
Advocate feels ignored
Alaya McIvor is the chair of the Experiential Advisory Committee—a group of survivors of sexual exploitation and trafficking—who was one of the stakeholders consulted for the study.
"I would like to see our government actually take that report down. It doesn't reflect the work that's been done," said McIvor. She says it does not adequately represent Indigenous perspectives.
She is troubled with suggestions in the report that, in certain cases, youth should be housed in locked facilities.
"We don't do that to kids who are abused and who are victims of violence. We don't lock them up."
She believes what started as a community and survivor-driven initiative has been taken over by the government.
A spokesperson for the department of families says work on Tracia's Trust continues to be guided by elders, experiential voices and survivors, and the intent of the recommendations were included in the final document.
She said planning is underway to determine what actions will be taken in the years ahead.