News stories about sexually exploited youth
in Canada perpetuate unhelpful stereotypes, according to new research from the
University of British Columbia.
The study, recently published in the
Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, found that stories seldom focus on
perpetrators, do not capture the diversity of victims, and use words that
legitimise the illegal act of sexual exploitation committed against youth.
"Our research shows that news reports
commonly use words that portray exploitive experiences as 'business' or
'trade,' and sometimes call exploiters 'customers' – if they mention those who
are buying sex at all," says Elizabeth Saewyc, lead author of the study
and professor at the UBC School of Nursing. "This has consequences for how
society views these young people and their situation, and what we do about
did the research say?
Researchers examined 835 Canadian print
news articles and compared them to existing research about sexually exploited
youth. Their findings show that Canadian print media typically portrayed a
specific image of sexual exploitation, often older teenage girls on street
corners, even though research evidence shows nearly equal rates of exploitation
among girls and boys.
"If you're a young person being
exploited, but you constantly hear that only certain kinds of people are
exploited, or only in these stereotypical ways, you may not even recognize this
is what's happening to you," says Saewyc. "We hoped our study would
show improvements in reporting over time, but that isn't what we found."
Saewyc believes service providers and
researchers can be advocates for accurate reporting, but editors and reporters
have a responsibility to avoid stereotypes. She recommends that news stories
place greater focus on the exploiters and more accurately reflect the
experiences of victims of sexual exploitation.