Disturbing trends in the sexual behaviour of youngsters and a significant climb in crime are increasing cause for concern, say a couple of counsellors well-versed in dealing with youth at risk.
“When we began dealing with youth gangs in 2013, what came to light was how significant the sexual exploitation of youth has become in all of the Capital Regional District,” said Mia Golden, co-ordinator of the Crime Reduction and Exploitation Division (CRED) with Pacific Centre Family Services Association. “I believe social media and pornography are major factors behind the increase.”
One troubling recent trend is the increase in the numbers of youth sexual assaults and exploitation in children 12 and under, said Jennifer Munro, clinical director for PCFSA. “In my 30 years (of youth and family counselling), I’ve never seen that.”
That comprises a major portion of the calls related to CRED, Golden added.
“Another very concerning trend is the number of children, some as young as six, addicted to porn,” Golden said. “This is a frightening new phenomenon, fueled by the fact that kids can access it on their phone. I’m having conversations regularly with youth who are struggling with the physiological impacts of porn on the brain. That includes erectile dysfunction in young teens.”
“This particular issue is just starting to get attention,” Munro said.
CRED’s focus since its inception has been to work with youth and their families who may be involved with, or vulnerable to, sexual exploitation and gang involvement, explained Golden, who’s worked as a youth counsellor since 1994. When she started working with CRED and youth throughout the CRD, Golden’s case load consisted of 50 kids.
That number has quadrupled to 200 since she began in 2013, she noted.
“We liaise with all local police departments and have a very close relationship with the West Shore RCMP and Const. Don McIntosh,” Golden said.
Youth crime has increased by 51 per cent in the first six months of this year compared to the same period in 2018, Golden noted and MacIntosh confirmed. And that doesn’t include calls that involve youth causing nuisance, MacIntosh noted.
“The CRED program is the only one I’m aware of operating on the West Shore that seeks to tackle the issues of youth exhibiting gang-related behaviours,” MacIntosh said. “They also intervene in situations of potential exploitation of at-risk youth. As the community grows in size, I see the need for these types of focused services for young people and their families.”
The efforts by CRED to build positive relationships with youth, often by gaining their trust, is important because a lot of youth at risk don’t have trusted adult figures in their lives, so they greatly value the relationships the CRED program has fostered with them, MacIntosh explained. “As a member of the West Shore RCMP’s community policing unit, I routinely speak to youth in the community and often hear that they are connected with Mia [Golden] and will reach out to her if they need anything.”
The West Shore RCMP approached and partnered with PCFSA to address shared concerns in July. PCFSA facilitated a space for parents and guardians of at-risk youth to come together and learn about the services available in the community, specific to the needs of their child, MacIntosh said. Representatives from CRED, the Mobile Youth Service Team, School District 62, and Vancouver Island Health Youth Mental Health were involved in the open house as well.
“It was a great night for parents to connect and see the services that are available to them, and also to connect with one another and know they are not alone,” MacIntosh said. “Youth engagement is a shared responsibility and we all have a role to play.”
The rapid growth and development on the West Shore means more families are moving to the community, and more services are required to serve that growth, MacIntosh noted. “The CRED program serves a segment of our population that largely goes unnoticed, but are usually the most in need. I would hate to think what the West Shore would like without the CRED program or the PCFSA.”
MacIntosh stressed the importance of police engagement in these programs and with youth in the community in order to foster positive relationships that will have a positive impact on the next generation. “I would encourage the adults in our communities to consider volunteering with such efforts and being a part of the positive impact.”