Richmond business aims to educate youth, parents on signs of sexual exploitation

One Richmond business is working to help raise awareness of sexual exploitation among the city’s youth and parents.

Tiana Sharifi, who grew up in Richmond, founded Sexual Exploitation Education this past summer after working for three years as the program director for Children of the Street Society.

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Sharifi provides workshops to youth in grades eight to 12 in Richmond and across the province to help educate them on the issues and signs of sexual exploitation and human trafficking.

On Wednesday, Sharifi spoke to Steveston-London secondary’s 1,300 students about healthy relationships and sexual exploitation.

She will be returning to the secondary school and nearby elementary schools on Nov. 6 to speak to parents about how sexual exploitation can manifest online and in person, and will provide tips on how to keep children and youth safe.

According to Sharifi, Richmond is one of the most at-risk areas for sexual exploitation given the large immigrant population and the high number of low-income families.

“Of course all youth are at risk of being sexually exploited,” said Sharifi, “because when it comes to sexual exploitation, the predators try to fulfill a need that the child has, and they all have needs, whether it’s the need for money, popularity, acceptance, love, a sense of belonging…”

“And then with particular groups, they’re more vulnerable. So for example, the immigrant population, the high immigrant population in Richmond in particular,” added Sharifi, “those kids are coming into a country they don’t have a background on, they don’t know what the cultural norms are, they’re feeling isolated, they’re looking for belonging, maybe they’re coming from lower-income families and then all of a sudden you have somebody who can easily exploit those needs by trying to fill that void of what they want.”

She recalled her own experience in high school, where students were being groomed and she wasn’t aware of the signs – a predator who pretends to be a friend or boyfriend, who buys the victim lots of gifts that they typically couldn’t afford.

Other key warning signs include introducing the young person to drugs or alcohol through party culture, or isolating them from friends and family.

“And all of a sudden the way that your life was before is completely changed – that’s another warning sign,” said Sharifi, adding that many of the predators in Canada are between 19 and 32, and are “very youth-friendly.” 

Sharifi is set to give a TedX talk at Hugh Boyd Secondary on Apr. 8, 2020, and should be speaking to Richmond students about online safety later this year.

Professionals and private groups can coordinate bookings with her directly through her website, SexualExploitationEducation.com, said Sharifi, adding she tailors presentations to each group.

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