Keeping our children safe

Advertisement campaigns geared towards men raise awareness of child exploitation

A recent advertisement campaign from Child Find Manitoba has been asking, “Are You OK With It?” aiming to make the public aware of the sexual exploitation of children and steer the focus toward male offenders.

“The offending side of the equation is really where it connects everything,” said Christy Dzikowicz, director of Child Find Manitoba (CFM).

In 2006, with funding from the provincial government, CFM launched the Stop Sex with Kids campaign, a three-phase campaign that was made deliberately dark to get the public asking themselves uncomfortable questions.

“The whole campaign is to get people to stop and think about it ... maybe even making them wonder if they know anybody who is an offender,” said Dzikowicz.

In preparing for the campaign, Dzikowicz said CFM spoke to adults who had been abused and who did not feel as though the men who abused them were hiding, treating the situation like normal behaviour.

“We can’t have this grey area ... people don’t sit on the fence about whether they are opposed to child exploitation or not,” she said.

Awareness campaigns for child sexual exploitation have only been publicized since the 1980s and have often focused on women and children who have been victimized.

Ninety per cent of child exploitation offenders are male, according to Beyond Borders, the Canadian representative of ECPAT International, a global organization to end child prostitution, child pornography and trafficking of children for sexual purposes.

But even today, most of the awareness campaigns are being promoted by women.

“This is very much a men’s issue – this is a matter that needs their attention, it’s subject matter they can speak out about,” said Deborah Zanke, spokesperson for the Man-to-Man campaign with Beyond Borders.

“When we started off with the idea of the campaign we reached out to 70 men – only six came out,” she said. “It really says something about the men who came aboard.”

The Man-to-Man campaign features Canadian male celebrities speaking out against child sexual exploitation in hopes that the message can not only bring awareness but also change the mind of those who may be prone to offend.

Zanke said that since the early stages of the campaign, more men have become willing to speak out.

“(Since the campaign began) men have reached out. There has been a marked increase of men coming forth,” she said, adding she hopes this trend will grow in the future.

Jane Litchfield is the supervisor of clinicians at Marymound School which offers an alternative environment for young females dealing with issues like addictions and sexual exploitation.

She is not convinced that campaigns will fully reach out to the offenders.

“The men who do it are often detached from empathy and if they can make a profit off these girls, then they will continue to do it,” she said, adding that she feels the campaigns can help victims realize there is help for them.

Claudia Ash Ponce, executive director of the Child Protection Branch for Family Services and Consumer Affairs with the provincial government explains that the onus is on all Manitobans to take action in ending child sexual exploitation.

“Manitoba believes that we must continue to get the word out that all forms of exploitation, whether it is pornography or prostitution, it is child abuse and we as a society will not tolerate it,” she said.

Published in Volume 65, Number 11 of The Uniter (November 11, 2010)

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