This week, we will be taking some time to show you the work that our workshop facilitators prepared for our Youth Art Engagement Project. Today we will be featuring art pieces from Emily and Ian.  

The following projects and artist statements are pieces that were created by each facilitator and the Program Coordinator that reflect a personal response to the sexual exploitation of children and youth throughout our communities.

Title: Untitled, by Emily H

Medium/materials used: Graphic Art, Microsoft Word

Image

I created this graphic design piece based on the adage: “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”. In the issue of sexual exploitation, there can be a strong tendency to look the other way, say “Not in my backyard”, and refuse to acknowledge it. I changed the adage, to acknowledge it. I changed the adage, to acknowledge it. I changed the adage, using the proverb ‘WE’, because this issue is not about ‘them’, but all of us. The light purpose swirl represents the smoke or illusion that makes this issue invisible. Behind it is an image of a child with their eyes, ears, and mouth closed. It is a haunting representation of the old adage. Both the text ‘sexual exploitation, it can happen to anyone’ and ‘WE DON’T SEE’ are in the colour fuchsia. They are in stark contrast to the black/white and muted purpose tones of the rest of the piece. This shows the intensity of this ignored reality.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – — – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Title: Sex?

Medium/Materials: Collage, Hodge Podge and Magazine on canvas

This art work depicts the holistic and visions nature of sexual exploitation. It is titled ‘Sex?’ because the main point of the art is to display that sexual exploitation has little to do with sex, but rather, with power and the control of an individual in sometimes the weakest and most vulnerable periods of their life.

The depiction of a women and children covered in  blood shows that sexual exploitation is harmful and not limited to a specific gender or age and can impact families. The depiction of Marilyn Monroe is included because she is a primary sex symbol in North American culture. Women may strive to obtain her image and what she has, but are young women doing this in healthy and age appropriate ways? Sexual exploitation is not limited to the sex trade and is essentially when a youth exchanges a sexual act for anything in return like: popularity, acceptance and belonging. These are intangible things that many youth struggle with in their day to day lives. Exploiters can take advantage of these vulnerabilities so I find it important to place an image of the North American idealized women.

Sexual exploitation is harmful and destructive to society as a while. This image cannot to real justice to the issue, but the goal is to send a message and open eyes towards the issue.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – — – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Stay tuned for two more artist statements tomorrow! Please comment and tell us what you think of Emily and Ian’s art pieces. How do you express yourself through art?

 

 

Advertisements

A unique art piece created by a former participant of last year's YAEP

Over the week of December 12-16 our Youth Workshop facilitator team has been gearing up for the upcoming Youth Art Engagement Project (YAEP) that COS will be launching in Vancouver in the New Year. The YAEP began as an incredibly successful pilot project in the Tri-Cities last year and we will be carrying out ‘Phase 2’ of the project in Vancouver in 2012. The project seeks to engage 4 groups of youth from Vancouver schools over the course of 9, 2 hour education and art production sessions. The goal of this project is not only to provide an intensive education on sexual exploitation, but also empower youth to utilize their important voices through social justice art which can lead to increased community awareness around this issue in their own communities. 

Over the past week our facilitator team has not only been putting together the curriculum for this year’s project, but they have also been training to integrate art and various mediums throughout the project. It was important for the facilitators to experiment with art themselves and push their own boundaries and vulnerabilities so that they can fully understand what that experience will be like for students participating on the project.

Each day over the next few days, we will be showcasing our facilitator team’s finished work and their demonstration of the the YAEP. Stay tuned!


As we enter a new school year, we are quickly being exposed to new and emerging trends/issues coming from the youth we are engaging with. One trend that we were already aware of, and something that has been prevalent for a few years now, is the extremely concerning LG issue. 

As explained in a previous blog entry written by former facilitator, Amar Ghelani (https://childrenofthestreet.wordpress.com/2011/07/04/lg-parties-and-the-seeds-of-exploitation/), the term LG (Little Girl) is a label used by teenagers to stereotype young women (between the ages of 11-15) for wearing revealing clothing or perceived promiscuity. We have also heard of the term LB (Little Boy), a label given to young men (ages 11-15) who are also vulnerable. The second part of this equation is the LG Hunters- older youth who are targeting younger LG’s/LB’s to pressure them to exchange a sexual act with them. The exchange could be tangible, such as drugs or alcohol, but it could also be intangible, such as popularity or physical validation. Through conversations we have had with youth, we as facilitators have drawn a couple of conclusions about what is going on, and why this is a much bigger problem than we may think.

 The first point we gathered, is that there is a huge power imbalance in this dynamic. These very young girls and boys are being targeted by much older youth (typically gr.11 and 12’s), which tells us that by there simply being an age gap, these young individuals are extremely influenced by their older counterparts. Instead of being mature, responsible role models, it seems that these older youth are reinforcing this “LG” behaviour by not only encouraging these young girls to dress and act a certain way, but further creating demand by engaging in sexual activity with them. We feel that because these young girls and boys are so vulnerable and inexperienced in the high school dynamic, they don’t even realize they are being exploited and unfortunately made fun of.

The second point we have gathered, is that there is limited empathy coming from our students. This feeling comes to us mainly from the older girls. When we asked a group of older girls why there is a lack of respect for these young girls, we are often told they disrespect them because, “it’s not our fault they dress like that and hook up with our boyfriends”.

When we present our workshops, we engage students in the idea that sexual exploitation is everyone’s issue, not just those who are involved. Similarly, the LG/LB dynamic is also everyone’s issue.  We are now encouraging youth of all ages to see this for what it is: 

Exploitation in our elementary and high schools. By comparing the LG dynamic to the sex trade, we believe we are opening their eyes to a much bigger problem. The sex trade would not exist if there wasn’t a demand for it- LG/LB’s wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t a demand for them. We seek to inspire youth to become respectful, compassionate and encouraging role models for these young people. We are asking them to take a step back and look at the bigger picture, maybe if they modeled how to act and behave, LG/LB’s wouldn’t exist. Rather, there would be the development of mature and responsible young adults. We feel that by taking the word LG and projecting it to a bigger issue like the sex trade, we are showing students that the repercussions of their predatory behaviour can lead to a much more serious problem. We ask them, “what do we call a 35 year old man who is interested in 13 year olds?” They typically respond with, “pedophile”. So we ask them, “What happens when these young men, these LG hunters who are actively seeking out these young girls, get older and become the 35 year old who is still interested in little girls? Or even if they aren’t attracted to LG’s but they build a pattern of behaviour that is exploitive towards women?” Then we see the concern in their eyes.

When we tackle issues such as the LG dynamic, we are never blaming our youth for what they are doing or what is happening to them. We seek to draw out the issue and highlight how it reflects something much larger. It is everyone’s problem, therefore we all have to be part of the solution. We are all vulnerable at some point in time and we have to recognize these vulnerabilities in each other and choose not to prey on them. It’s time to use our power in the right way to encourage others to be the best that they can be. Our students have just as much power as we do to create change and fuel the positive energy that is needed with an issue as serious and concerning as the LG/LB dynamic.


As Canadians we are frequently bombarded with images from the media, whether they are in the form of print, advertisements, television, or the internet. Although we might not consciously think about it, the pressing and constant exposure of media images does influence what we as people come to value. For example, advertisements on television attempt to persuade us to want and value certain products. While advertisements attempt to influence people in terms of what they want, I would like to also suggest the media seeks to influence people in terms of who they want to be. Specifically, I want to talk about how young men are influenced by male media depictions.

          

  There is no doubt that men who are looked up to in the media portray a certain image. The male celebrities who are given consideration as “sexiest man alive” are often handsome, successful, muscular, and wealthy. In today’s music industry and pop culture, men are depicted in their images and lyrics as being tough, ballin’, dominant, sexually aggressive, and possessive. It is these men in the media, who leave the men of the general public with that “I wish I was him” feeling. Although men are not always portrayed in such an “idealized” way in the movies and television, let’s face it; the average guy would probably want to be the character that Brad Pitt is playing rather than the awkward teenage youth that Michael Cera portrays.

            When presenting our TCO2 Workshop in high schools and elementary schools, we discuss the gender dynamics between men and women that we see in the media. In shows such as Entourage, and Jersey Shore, and movie series such as the The Fast and The Furious, men are often portrayed as sexually aggressive and dominant over women. Women are objectified and valued based only on their sexual attractiveness and body type. Especially troubling are the gender dynamics depicted in the music industry.  Rapper Snoop Dogg, is notorious for dressing up and calling himself a pimp, with images circulating the internet of him holding female models by a dog leash. Rapper 50 Cent wrote a #1 hit song called “P.I.M.P.” whose lyrics include;

“Come get money with me, if you curious to see,
how it feels to be with a P-I-M-P… We could toast to the good life, girl we could have it all. We could really splurge girl, and tear up the mall.
If ever you need someone, I’m the one you should call.
I’ll be there to pick you up if ever you should fall.. I’m your friend, your father, your confidant.. ”

Is this the type of message that a male should value or want to embody? Songs like these misappropriate the activities and personality of a pimp as a man who is exciting and glamorous. We discuss with students the truth that pimps profit off of the abuse and exploitation of youth and children. They are not glamorous- they are sex offenders.  

            Media surrounds us in our everyday lives, so what happens when these ideas become commonplace and normalized?  I suggest that these messages play a strong role in the dynamics we see around sexual exploitation. Contrary to the media depictions of the genders, men do not possess the right to dominate women physically,  sexually, or by any other means. But, when we look at the sex trade (whether online or street level), women, youth, and children are viewed as objects who can be bought and sold at the convenience of men. This is the absolute epitome of the exploitative messages regarding the gender performances we see in the media.  

            While men in the media are depicted as having the characteristics described above, they are discouraged to portray other characteristics as well. It is considered unmanly to expose one’s vulnerabilities and weaknesses. It is unmanly to display emotions such as love and fear. It’s unmanly to have respect, and recognize that no means no. I argue that these are the types of depictions that need to be encouraged, as empathy and sensitivity are huge influences in the decision not to purchase sex and exploit those who are at their most vulnerable.  

As humans living in an interactive society, we have to consciously become aware of who we are as individuals and question the influences to our values. Men do not have to aim to fit the mode of the “ideal” man that the media portrays. The media cannot depict the ideal man without depicting men’s relationship with women, and that relationship happens to be pretty dominating and sexually aggressive at times. Rather, as a society we need to work on building character, respect, empathy and compassion to break down the oppressive dynamics depicted by the media that could ultimately express itself in various forms of sexual exploitation. This year in TCO2, we have facilitated thought provoking discussion about what it means to be a man who respects vulnerability and uses power in a health way, and that it’s okay to not fit the media mold. We have hope that we will see change as we travel across BC to address these issues.


Returning to elementary, middle, and high schools as an adult is rather a unique and eye-opening experience.  Unfortunately, it is a rare day that I walk through the hallways of a school without hearing at least one slur, let alone a number of them. These hateful words stay with us. 

Most of us can remember cruel words that have been used against us or the ones we love.  These may be derogatory comments targeting particular ethnicities, sexualities, abilities, genders, or social classes.

Image

The language we are taught throughout our lives influences the way we interact with each other.  And it subconsciously informs us of how we respect the people around us.  In direct relation to sexual exploitation, this makes me think of words like: slut, whore, and prostitute.  When these words are vocalized as insults, it does not only tell us information about the individual making the ignorant comment, it also indicates that this environment makes the person feel comfortable and safe to openly use these loaded words.  I find the fact that so many individuals feel confident in elementary, middle, and high schools using derogatory language more disturbing than the way the language is used.  Most of the people reading this article have spent a number of years in hallways where disrespectful language is spouted freely without understanding the implications of these words.  We are shaped by the language that we hear.

I would be hopelessly naïve if I thought these slurs did not continue to be uttered by some well into adulthood.  I am by no means suggesting that all of us share these hateful remarks, and we may not understand how language can hurt ourselves or the people around us. 

However, even if we are not the individuals making these remarks, are we not partially responsible as people creating this space where individuals feel that it is acceptable to share their ignorance out in the open?  These slurs make us vulnerable.  Even if we are not the direct target of a particular hateful comment, such as “fag,” (which I hear almost daily as an insult between young men in our schools) a message is implicitly sent to everyone in earshot that this is not a safe place to be ourselves.  This relates to sexual exploitation because the language we use as we interact with the people around us has the ability to create, maintain, or destroy feelings of safety and belonging.  When this is not a safe place, these slurs will be vocalized more frequently. 

In our TCO2 workshop, we discuss how we have the power to make the people around us vulnerable based on how we treat each other.  One way we can protect the people around us from sexual exploitation is by respecting our differences, whether they relate to gender, sexuality, ethnicity, ability, class, or any other perceived difference. Confronting disrespectful language is one simple yet essential way to resist the oppression of such language and give signals that ignorant comments are not acceptable.  This will prevent isolating the people around us.  Isolation is one of the warning signs of sexual exploitation as it makes us more likely to seek validation, acceptance, and love through potentially dangerous avenues.


1. What interested you most in being a TCO2 workshop facilitator?
 
There are a number of things that interest me in being a TCO2 facilitator such as; working in a collaborative team, travelling around BC to spread an important message, and creating a workshop that is by youth for youth. But, what interests me most about my job is the way we approach the issue and how we create an inviting workshop that youth like to engage in. Talking about sexual exploitation can be difficult at times, so the way we deliver the workshop and how we approach them is really vital. Education about sexual exploitation is key in protecting youth and giving them ways to stay safe and reach out.

 2. Can you tell us a little about your previous training and experience?
 
Throughout grades 8-12 I was highly involved with my school. I was grade representative on the Student Council, as well as in Leadership class. I believe my involvement in these things vastly improved my high school experience and gave me a taste of public speaking, advertising campaigns, event organization, ticket sales etc.  After highschool, I spent 2 years at Simon Fraser University studying Psychology and Criminology, and soon decided that a large University wasn’t for me. I took a year off to work as a Server at a Yaletown restaurant and eventually decided to try College as per advice of a good friend. I found a program at CDI College in Downtown Vancouver and earned a diploma in Addictions and Community Service. While searching for Practicums to complete my requirements for my diploma, I discovered Children of the Street Society. I was very lucky to earn a placement as a practicum student and there I was introduced to the topic of Sexual Exploitation. Following my practicum placement, I took a Youth Worker position at Family Services of Greater Vancouver Youth Detox and found not only a job, but a career for the future. When the opportunity came up to work with Children of the Street in 2011-2012, I saw it as a fantastic opportunity and also, a way to give a voice to the amazing youth I have the pleasure of working with at Detox.

3. What do you see as an important focus point to preventing the sexual exploitation of youth?
 
My favorite parts of the workshop are when I can look at these kids and be real with them. When we are presenting, there is a distinct equality that is felt in the room, there is no “us” and “them”, it’s just everyone having a dicussion in a safe space. I think the fact that we are close in age to them they can still relate to us, but also look up to us and learn. We encourage youth to show each other some love and break down the silence about really important issues.

4. What excites you most about the format of this year’s TCO2 workshop?

I really love the amount of media we have added this year. We are appealing to a growing screen generation so we decided to break the mould and do something exciting and new. I think the finished product is fantastic and the youth are really reacting in a positive way. We had a great time creating the videos, writing out scripts, and editing the footage. What’s really cool about it is, we talk about Vulnerability in the begining of our workshop, and how we are all vulnerable at some time, then we show the videos with us in it and the youth laughs and it shows them that even we can be vulnerable, so it puts us all on the same page right from the get go.

5. What’s your favourite part of being a workshop facilitator?

My favorite part of my job is that even on a bad day, I am able to look back on my day and say to myself “You did something important today, and you might have even saved someones life”. It’s an awesome feeling to be doing such important work with a fantastic team of individuals.


Perhaps you’ve walked in a mall or sat on a sky train next to a young person. You hear a faint clicking sound as they rapidly text on their phone, or see the reflective glow on their faces from using a laptop or iPad. This generation has been introduced to, and embraced, online social media and personal electronic devices in a way no other age group has. 2009’s Nielsen study on “How Teens Use Media” reports that the average teen spends 3.2 hours a day watching television, uses the internet for 75 minutes, sends 96 text messages, and spends 25 minutes using a console game. And this is just the usage for one day!

It’s more than clear that this is a screen generation. Not to discount other forms of communication, but youth seem to have a familiarity, preference, and ability to easily use most media devices. Is this a negative trend? Nielsen suggests that although it is a departure from classical modes of interaction in the past, there is still a high quality of retention, communication, and relationships being formed through these different avenues of communication.

As we were creating our TCO2 (Taking Care of Ourselves, Taking Care of Others) workshops this year, we were actively thinking of how to engage the screen generation, without losing our flair for dramatic role plays and monologues.  Last year, we introduced the use of some video, and received overwhelming feedback that this was effective and well received from both students and teachers.

This year, we decided to take a risk to reach out to the screen generation. Our team of young adult facilitators wrote, directed,  starred in, and edited 12 videos- 6 for elementary and 6 for high school. These videos follow two characters, Carter and Julia, and are used to provide tangible stories of different ways sexual exploitation can happen, and the complex dynamics involved. In between the use of these short, 3-5 minute videos, our team generates discussion, uses PowerPoint, and even peppers in live role plays.

In less than two months, we have seen an incredible amount of engagement and overall class participation. It seems that the use of screen media paired with our tried and tested live dramatic model is just what the doctor ordered. Students are captivated- as a video plays, a hush falls over the room. We see visible reactions cross their faces, and the questions and comments they ask after show us that we are hitting the mark right where we need to. We are encouraged and challenged to continue to track with students, to understand where they are at, and the best ways we can communicate to them. Those who stay relevant stay prevalent.

The next time you see a youth seemingly disengaged while clicking through their phone, keep in mind that we as a community can reach them when we cross the technological bridge to their world.

Resource Referenced:

http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/reports/nielsen_howteensusemedia_june09.pdf