Let's not mince words about Winnipeg's child sex network.
Some of our children are propositioned on their way to school, lured from group homes and threatened if they don't comply. Predators seek them out. They're forced to have sex with strangers. The kids agree to back-alley acts for money, drugs or food.
They do it because they're isolated and afraid and don't see a way out. They acquiesce because they're beaten and their families threatened if they don't. They're not kiddie hookers, so let's not get confused with Brooke Shields in Pretty Baby.
The girls are sold by pimps and transported by criminals. Trafficking sounds glamorous in an international-cartel kind of way. It's not. Gang members prey on the already vulnerable. Girls are debased by johns. Men who get their kicks from kids are criminals.
Canada's legal age of sexual consent is 16. You can't buy sex from someone under 18. Soliciting is illegal, the purchase of sex is not.
Tracia's Trust is part of the Manitoba government's strategy against the sexual exploitation and trafficking of children. The initiative will make it easier for victims or their guardians to get protection orders against their exploiters and the people who trafficked them.
Justice Minister Andrew Swan has stepped into this cesspool with big boots on. He's following in the footsteps of former justice minister Gord Macintosh, who declared war on child sexual predators. Tracia's Trust, named for 14-year-old Tracia Owen, an abused child who hanged herself in 2005, is another arrow in the provincial justice quiver.
New legislation hits pimps and traffickers below the belt. It allows courts to sell criminals' possessions to make cash settlements to victims. In effect, if you lure, recruit or kidnap a girl, you stand to lose your stuff. It's the same approach taken, with some success, against outlaw bikers in Manitoba.
Swan can't make criminal law. All he can do is bolster Manitoba's Child and Family Services Act, which prevents anyone from trying to lure a child from CFS care.
"We are trying to find civil remedies," Swan said in an interview Monday. "We're looking at the johns, the pimps, the traffickers."
Tracia's Trust will have no direct impact on johns. It allows parents, child welfare authorities or children to launch a civil suit against offenders. Swan compared the legislation to Manitoba's domestic violence policy. People who protect kids can stop contact between victims and predators. You break the protection order, you've committed a crime.
It's almost impossible to arrest someone for having paid sex with a minor. Police essentially have to catch a john in the act. They're not going to do that, because they swoop in first to protect the child. Now there's another way to hit back.
To understand the legislation, you have to understand how men prey upon the girls. They know where group homes are located and try to cull a weak one from the herd. The primary targets of the legislation are pimps who lure aboriginal girls from the remote north, as well as foster children under the care of family service agencies.
Getting kids to testify against predators and traffickers is near impossible.
"They're scared and they're vulnerable," says Jane Runner, manager of TERF, a transition program for street kids under the provincial social services agency New Directions. "The guy has threatened them."
Swan said he has tried to convince fellow justice ministers they need to re-examine the Criminal Code and consider tougher penalties for predators. He's going to keep trying.
An offshoot of Tracia's Trust is anyone who has been sexually victimized can now file a civil action against the offender. The crime doesn't have to be recent.
This is a battle of inches. To succeed, we've got to find a way to eliminate the audacious johns. Swan said the message has to be delivered that buying sex isn't OK, and buying sex from children is a crime.