Important: Before We Begin

What you’ll learn

This module describes what you can do to support a child or youth who is being sexually exploited. The information will help you:

  • Understand what sexual exploitation and human trafficking are.
  • Recognize the signs of sexual exploitation and human trafficking.
  • Offer support and options for the young person, without judgement.

Thank you to our sources

This module draws on training developed by two leading anti-trafficking organizations who are survivor led and have been supporting youth for decades:

We were also guided by the work of an Advisory Committee of people with lived experience that was convened by YWCA Halifax in 2017-19.

The module includes short video clips from a longer interview with Jade Brooks: an author, blogger and anti-human-trafficking advocate. Jade Brooks is a survivor of domestic human sex trafficking.

Who we mean by “youth”

Sexual exploitation happens to people of every age, but this module focuses specifically on children and youth. In Nova Scotia, this includes any individual under the age of 19.

The law in Nova Scotia is clear: any child or youth under the age of 19 who is engaged in the sex trade is being commercially sexually exploited. This is child abuse.

In this module, you will also learn what the law says about reporting abuse or neglect to child protection services. Look for duty to report later in this module.

Words matter

For far too long, children and youth who are involved in the sex trade have been referred to as “teen prostitutes” or described as “exploiting themselves.” This language is harmful. It puts the responsibility on the shoulders of the child rather than the adults who are exploiting them. It is a form of victim blaming. We use the term “sexually exploited.” We encourage you to do the same.

Most people will have an idea about "sex for money," but it's important to know that the sex trade can take many forms -- especially with online sexual exploitation on the rise.

Participation in the sex trade can also look like:





web camming

selling intimate images

When you are talking directly with a young person, pay attention to the language they use. Do they see themselves as a victim? A survivor? Perhaps neither. Using the same language they do can help to validate their experience and build trust. When in doubt, follow their lead.

Here are some terms used in law enforcement and community services. Clarifying what these words mean can help you to talk about the issues. You will learn about street language later in this module.

    • Exploitation means taking unfair advantage of someone in order to benefit from their work.
    • It’s sexual exploitation when someone coerces, lures or involves a child or youth in a sexual act, including pornography. It may be in exchange for something—money, drugs, shelter, food, protection, transportation, or to fulfill emotional needs.
    • Trafficking means dealing in something illegal. Drug trafficking and arms trafficking are two examples.
    • Human trafficking means buying or selling people, or profiting from work they are forced to do. It includes recruiting, harbouring, transporting or controlling the movement of a person for the purpose of exploitation.
    • When a young person is being sexually exploited by a third party for profit, that’s human sex trafficking

For the purpose of this module, we use the term sexual exploitation to include commercial sexual exploitation and human sex trafficking.

Visit the glossary page for more information on language used in this course.

Myths About Sexual Exploitation

There are many misconceptions and stereotypes about sexual exploitation. These myths impact how victims/survivors are treated (and if they are believed) by police, media, the justice system, and even friends, family, and community. They can cause a victim/survivor to doubt or blame themselves or fear that they will not be believed. These myths are misleading, harmful, and still very present in our collective thinking.

Click on the myth boxes below to reveal the facts about human trafficking:


"Human trafficking always involves forcible confinement or kidnapping."


Sometimes human trafficking looks like kidnapping, but often it doesn’t. It may look like a business relationship or a love interest. It’s the exploitation by a 3rd party for profit that makes it human trafficking.


"Human trafficking means moving people from place to place illegally."


Some victims are transported within or out of the province, but this doesn’t have to happen for it to be considered human trafficking. Remember, it’s the exploitation for profit that makes it human trafficking.


"If a youth consents, it’s not exploitation."


In Nova Scotia, if a person is under the age of 19, any participation in the sex trade is considered exploitation, regardless of how they got involved.  


"It’s only sexual exploitation if money is involved."


In Nova Scotia, if a person is under the age of 19, any involvement in the sex trade is considered exploitation. The trade could be for money or for other things - for example, for shelter, protection, affection, food, or transportation.