A voice for our youth
National effort to help sexually exploited aboriginal youth

Glen Vienneau
Northern News Services

Yellowknife ( May 26/00) - Sexually exploited youth had an opportunity to voice their concerns last weekend in Yellowknife.

"I know there was a commitment generally by society that slavery was bad, so I think we can end slavery," said youth advocate Cherry Kingsley of Vancouver.

Kingsley was in Yellowknife Saturday organizing a focus group for the National Aboriginal Sexually Exploited Youth Project. The focus group was held at the Status of Women office.

On Sunday she addressed various community representatives and discussed issues on commercial sexual exploitation of youth.

Kingsley, along with Melanie Mark, aboriginal project co-ordinator, is part of an extensive cross-country tour of 21 communities which began in February and ends in June.

The main purpose of the focus group is to provide sexually-exploited and abused youth a venue to tell their stories, said Kingsley.

"It cannot happen, this slavery, this is the buying and selling of children and it has to stop," said Kingsley, who also lived a life in the sex trade and abused drugs.

Their mandate also involves creating national and community partnerships, helping create new social policies, informing the communities about existing social policies, health education, and stimulating youth participation in development and change. In addition, they design long-term transition housing and help youth break away from sexual trades.

However, according to Kingsley, support from community leaders is crucial to their cause.

"I won't play that stereotypical victim for people before they care," said Kingsley.

"When you have somebody that has that voice and has the ability to build the bridge for you back in the rest of the world. So many people have that power and don't do it," she said.

With the support the group received, Kingsley and Mark have been able to speak with youth about different issues.

Those attending the focus group in Yellowknife were asked about their perceptions on what is child abuse, what is exploitation and how to prevent it.

Also, they were asked about the most useful ways to intervene, how youth get out of the sex trade or exploitive relationships, how to begin healing, how to change public attitudes about the issues, and what attitudes needed to be changed.

"All your memories are about abuse, exploitation, slavery and pain, thus becomes your day-to-day existence," said Kingsley.

It was, for her, a long journey to break away from these emotional chains.

"The only people that understood what I was going through were the people that were struggling through the same thing.

"I began to understand that along with healing comes connecting and making that connection to other people."

Her emotional pain is also for today's youths living through what she has experienced.

Kingsley adds, "I want men to stop buying children, that's what I really want."