It’s a topic that’s difficult to discuss, the sexual exploitation of youth. All week Prince George’s Justice Education Society will host events to educate the public on the issue.
The organization’s Ashley Steinson is just starting to tell her story. She says throughout her teenage years she was sexually exploited. Now, she’s breaking her silence.
“It was something that I was actually ashamed to talk about for several years and I’m finally coming out and telling my story because I want to help other people. For me personally I was too scared to talk about it until somebody spoke about their story and then it made me feel brave to tell my story to them. And come out and then it made me realize that it was easier to get my story off my chest and then I could help other people as well.”
Steinson is working with the Justice Education Society to educate the public. She’s doing so through a program called CASEY, Communities Against Sexual Exploitation of Youth. The aim of of the program is to teach the public about risk factors, internet awareness, and healthy relationships.
“It’s more common than we think and so many people don’t get the help that they need. Forty per cent of homeless people have been sexually abused. Almost eight five per cent of people who are involved in drugs have also been sexually abused in the past.”
In the last decade there has been a shift in how young people are exploited. In the past, they were visible targets out the streets selling sex. Now, they’re online. As Laurel Collins with the Justice Education Society explains, this presents a challenge for those hoping to help.
“They’re not visible anymore so one of our biggest challenges right now is finding the youth to work with us because now it’s mostly behind closed doors because the online world allows people to be accessible a lot easier.”
Educational events are scheduled to take place throughout the week. For a full list of events, click here.