“The Game”

What is it?

“The Game” or “The Life” is street slang for being involved in unregulated or illegal ways of making money. It includes sexual exploitation.

The Game has its own culture – the language or slang used, ways of dressing and representing oneself, how one behaves or responds, and the beliefs or values held. Pop culture tends to represent The Game as lavish and fun, attracting young people to become involved - but what you see is not always what you get.

"During the eighties, sociologists and clinicians identified the many ways in which gang culture replicated the family unit for children who found their support systems in the street. In the world of domestically trafficked girls, the same is true. The desire for a family is so strong and so overpowering for most children that it doesn't take much to create that illusion. Pimps play upon this desire by creating a pseudo-family structure of girls who are your "wives-in-law" headed up by a man you call Daddy. The lessons that girls have been taught, implicitly and explicitly, about family and relationship dynamics are all fuel for the exploiters' fire. The greater need for attention and love, the easier it is to recruit them. The more unhealthy the patterns they've learned, the less a pimp needs to break them down, the less he needs to teach them.

- Rachel Lloyd,
Girls Like Us, Pg. 56

Learn the language

It is important to understand some of the language and culture of the sex trade. We are not suggesting that you use this language with the youth you support, but it is helpful to know the terms so you don’t interrupt a young person to ask what a word means if they’re sharing an experience.

If a young person is using this language, it might indicate they are familiar with The Game and are being sexually exploited. However, they might simply be using the language they hear on the street or in pop culture. Consider the youth’s language as an indicator, not as proof that they are being sexually exploited.

Drag and drop the term to the corresponding definition. If you don’t know the answer, take a guess!

Note: this activity functions best on a laptop/desktop and with Chrome.

For more examples, check out the glossary that YWCA Halifax developed with people who have lived experience.

Realities and impacts

While pop culture may lead young people to believe that the sex trade is glamourous, the realities are very different. Youth who are exploited in the sex trade:

  • Are at higher risk for contracting sexually transmitted infections.  If left untreated, these infections can cause long-term health problems.
  • Have a higher risk of substance abuse as a way of coping. Youth may feel forced to stay in the exploitative situation to support their substance use.  It can also be difficult to access services and supports, due to stigma or policies that require someone abstain from drugs or alcohol to receive supports.
  • Are forced to engage in the sex trade many hours at a time and have very little money of their own.  The money usually goes to the pimp. The youth being exploited may feel like they owe their traffickers money for clothes, housing, and food, as well as things like a phone, drugs, alcohol, makeup, aesthetics, etc. This can leave them feeling trapped in the exploitative situation.
  • Will encounter frequent physical and sexual violence.  Both traffickers and buyers can be violent. In addition, traffickers often terrorize youth into believing that they will hurt or kill them or their family if they try to leave, if they reach out for help, or if they don’t comply with the trafficker’s demands.
  • Are forced to engage in sexual acts in unsafe locations.  Cars, alleys, parks and trap houses are some locations that this can happen. Sometimes hotels or motels are used, though this doesn’t mean that these locations are safer for the youth.
  • Are forced to move locations by traffickers.  To avoid the police, traffickers will often move people from place to place, including to other communities.
  • May be left with long-lasting stigma and shame.  Even if someone is able to leave The Game, the effects of having been in the sex trade might continue for years to come. If they have been exploited online, it might be difficult or impossible to have the photos or videos removed from the internet.

The impacts of sexual exploitation can be deep and complex, both short- and long-term. Shame might be the hardest impact to overcome. Feelings of shame, humiliation, or embarrassment can prevent a young person from reaching out for help and receiving support. Being shamed by society revictimizes the young person at every turn.

As a support person, you can help to break the cycle of shame by understanding the factors that led to the sexual exploitation and by focusing on the young person’s strengths.

Child Sexual Abuse Materials (CSAM)

There have been recent developments in the regulation and response to online child sexual abuse images*, including technology to help remove CSAM images from the internet. To learn more, click here.

To report online child sexual abuse images, click here.

*often referred to as child pornography