**Warning: This story contains details about sexual assault that some readers might find upsetting.
Stories from Richmond teenagers about sexual assaults, inappropriate sexualized comments and an increasing lack of awareness around sexual consent are “alarming” one local educator.
Tiana Sharifi, who runs Exploitation Education Institute, has heard of three “rape parties” in the last year in Richmond where teens have been lured to an event via Snapshat and then have been sexually assaulted.
It’s to the point where such behaviour is “almost being normalized,” Sharifi said.
“The stories I’m hearing are very alarming these days,” she added.
Sharifi said these new trends in sexual exploitation are increasingly online and out of the sight of adults and she is urging parents and school staff to learn about risks facing teenagers, especially in this age where teens are inundated by social media.
Sharifi, a Richmond resident, works as an educator, holding sessions in schools, organizations and businesses in Richmond and around the Lower Mainland about sexual exploitation and human trafficking and covers topics such as consent, cyber safety and healthy relationships.
Not only are there new trends in sexual exploitation, it seems young men are increasingly being attracted to misogynistic messages that blur the lines of consent and cause teens, largely female, who complain about inappropriate behaviour to be ostracized by their peers, Sharifi explained.
She’s also hearing stories from female students about consent and rape being joked about at school and their concerns brushed off by staff.
The Richmond School District, however, says they take any such reports seriously, and they encourage students to reach out to “trusted adults within their circle.” This includes school administrators, counsellors, teachers and support staff.
“School counsellors, in particular, are trained to work with trauma and can assist in connecting students with the necessary resources, including community support and the RCMP if necessary,” said school district spokesperson David Sadler.
The school’s administrators will work with the student and their family to identify next steps and make sure they have access to the right support services, including referrals to community-based organizations and counselling.
Sadler noted the school district is continuously providing training for staff in all areas of diversity, equity and inclusion, including gender-based violence.
A big step is making youth feel comfortable sharing if something has happened to them, explained Cpl. Sharen Leung, supervisor and investigator with the BC Integrated Child Exploitation Team (BC ICE).
But there can be cultural barriers in pursuing police action.
Sometimes a counsellor will call the police when they hear from a student about sexual exploitation, but then it doesn’t go any further due to resistance from parents, Leung said.
This is “setting up our kids for failure.”
There is a lot of stigma attached to reporting sexual abuse or exploitation, Leung said.
“Sometimes youth come forward, but the parents don’t want to shame the family,” she added.
Reported child exploitation cases triple in a year
Leung said the number of child sexual exploitation cases BC ICE has seen across the province has tripled in the past year.
In fact, in January, Richmond RCMP noted one-third of its 21 sexual assault cases were referred to the BC ICE team and, in February, four cases were referred to them, according to recent reports that have gone to Richmond city council.
Leung said she doesn’t know the reasons behind these increasing numbers as they could stem from a number of factors, such as more awareness about the ability to report sexual assault.
But it’s clear the numbers aren’t going down, she added.
BC ICE receives reports from social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, about possible child exploitation cases. The team then identifies which jurisdiction it has come from and refers the case to that police detachment.
These might be cases of child luring, or the possession, sharing or making of child pornography.
BC ICE also helps local detachments with more complicated child exploitation cases or cases where the perpetrator moves from one jurisdiction to another.
The Andrew Tate effect
Sharifi believes there’s a need to get back to discussing consent in schools as it seems this current generation of teens doesn’t have a clear idea of the rules, possibly with misogynistic messages coming from prominent influencers.
Sharifi traces the blurring of consent rules and increasing toxic masculinity among teenaged boys back to social media influencers such as Andrew Tate, a British-American kickboxer who is prolific on social media spreading a message of misogyny.
Tate has been known to say women should stay home, can’t drive and belong to men. He has also stated women who are sexually assaulted bear some responsibility.
In fact, during presentations at high schools, when Sharifi puts a quote from Tate on the screen to see how students react, it’s often received with clapping and cheers from teenaged boys – and horror from teenaged girls.
This is an indication of how Tate’s misogynistic and anti-feminist message is spreading among local teens, Sharifi said.
“It’s amazing what an impact he’s had in schools,” she added.
A U.K.-based anti-discrimination advocacy group, Hope not Hate, notes the effect of Tate’s brand of “vitriolic misogyny” can have on young males is “deeply concerning.”
“His content is widely celebrated by his fans for having brought back ‘traditional masculinity,’” states an article by Hope not Hate that is pushing to have Tate banned from social media platforms.
The advocacy group warns misogyny can be a “gateway” to other extreme views and “there is a serious danger that some people, sucked in by his sexist content, will align with his wider far-right politics.”
Tate is currently under house arrest in Bulgaria and is under suspicion of rape and human trafficking.
If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual assault, help is available.
● In an emergency, call 9-1-1
● In a crisis, call 1-800-563-0808
● To report a person under 19 who needs protection to the Ministry of Children and Family Development, call 310-1234 (no area code required)
● For more information and to report sexploitation, go to cybertip.ca.
● For other resources about missing and exploited children, go to missingkids.org
You can find a full list of resources on the B.C. government website