Social Media and the Sexual Exploitation of Indigenous Girls

in Girlhood Studies
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  • 1 University of Calgary dwlouie@ucalgary.ca

ABSTRACT

In this article, based on research I conducted in Western Canada, I discuss the significance of the emerging influence of social media on the overrepresentation of Indigenous girls in sexually exploitative situations. In interviews I conducted with Indigenous sexual exploitation survivors and intervention staff I found that social media is being used to recruit Indigenous girls and keep them exploited in three distinct ways: targeting girls in reserve communities and luring them to the city; setting up so-called dates to keep them off the streets; and facilitating constant communication between the victim and victimizer, thus ensuring that girls are perpetually active and reachable. I respond to these by outlining educational possibilities in order to combat the exposure of these girls to predators on social media sites.

The appearance of social media has enabled the recruitment of Indigenous1 populations into sexual exploitation. As recently as the last decade, social media lacked substantial influence on recruitment, but today it is routinely employed by those preying on underage girls. Indigenous women and girls are significantly overrepresented in the Western Canadian sex trade; they are estimated to make up 50 to 90 percent of the trade in major cities of this region (NWAC 2014; Sethi 2007; Totten 2009), despite representing less than 4 percent of the population. Existing literature on recruitment of these girls and women scarcely references the Internet and often omits social media altogether, as Michelle Hoogland (2010) notes. However, the research I conducted in Western Canada (Louie 2016) points to social media being responsible for this large-scale recruitment into the exploitative sex trade.

Using technologies of nonviolence offers a promising framework for conceptualizing educational approaches to the threat of social media for Indigenous girls. Joseph Bock (2012) contends that technologies of non-violence have the greatest potential in early warning systems that can be applied in a range of social media and other technologies. However, since sexual exploitation prevention education for Indigenous girls is understood as a community-based one, grassroots approaches are the preferred mechanism. Indigenous frameworks must take precedence to support a decolonizing agenda; technologies of nonviolence cannot be the explicit framework in this context. The Indigenous community framework and the Western approach of using technologies to mitigate physical threats must be understood as parallel processes. Although the technologies of non-violence framework is influential in social justice work, we must resist subsuming Indigenous approaches under the umbrella of non-Indigenous ideologies. In this article, I make a critical contribution to the field of technologies of nonviolence by highlighting Indigenous approaches that work parallel to this approach. While not amalgamated under the same banner, Indigenous knowledge approaches and technologies of nonviolence share common characteristics that offer symbiosis between disparate movements towards social justice.

I start by tracking the comprehensive findings of the wider research study I completed (Louie 2016) that unearthed social media as a primary recruitment mechanism for the horrific exploitation of Indigenous girls. In the ensuing section, I identify the three modes in which social media is employed as a recruitment or maintenance mechanism in this sexual exploitation of Indigenous girls. In response to the specific recruitment mechanisms, I offer educational recommendations based on the expertise of the Indigenous community in question and on the broader resources of Indigenous educational scholarship.

Research Background and Methodology

As Maya Seshia (2005) and Mark Totten (2012) point out, social media in sexual exploitation is interwoven with other pathways to such exploitation and recruitment mechanisms. Given that multiple indicators that include sexual abuse, the transition from reserves, prison systems, experience of violence, substance abuse, family disorganization and/or out-of-home placements, having family members in the sex trade, poverty, and poor relationships with services (see Louie 2016) create pathways2 to exploitation (Kingsley and Mark 2000), social media education aimed at the prevention of such exploitation must encompass the wider expanse of these life experiences. Leroy Little Bear (2000) emphasizes that Indigenous knowledge is interconnected; researchers require a holistic perspective if we are to appreciate the complex web of phenomena that creates the increased threat of exploitation. I investigated three research questions. Which life experiences create an increased threat of sexual exploitation for Indigenous girls? How are Indigenous girls recruited into sexual exploitation? What should sexual exploitation prevention education look like? I posed these questions to 19 staff members of Prince Albert Outreach and 5 Indigenous exploitation survivors in unstructured interviews. Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s (2012) Decolonizing Methodologies was central to my formulating a research method that was empowering for Indigenous people and based on the goal of self-determination. My findings established which life experiences prompted an increased threat of exploitation for Indigenous girls, what recruitment in Prince Albert looks like, and which pedagogical models should be used in prevention education. Although the outcomes of this research are not expected to provide the sole basis of prevention education, the data offer a starting point for prospective educational programming.

The strategies used to recruit Indigenous girls into sexually exploitative situations in Prince Albert provide curriculum designers with key aspects of prevention education. Indigenous girls here are recruited into exploitation by gangs, boyfriends, other females, family members, the need to meet basic necessities, substance abuse, social media, and members of the reserve. In this article, I seek to unpack the impact of social media while only tangentially addressing the remaining pathways and recruitment strategies. Although social media is not the most prominent element of recruitment—sexual abuse occupies this position—it nevertheless offers a promising strategy for prevention education to counter the overrepresentation of Indigenous girls being thus exploited.

Pathways to Recruitment

The two research sites, (Prince Albert (Louie 2016) and Calgary, where I am currently engaged in a wider study, are surrounded by reserve communities consistently in danger of becoming prime recruitment grounds for Indigenous girls. Dozens of reserves, hundreds of kilometers apart, surround Prince Albert, making active offline recruitment in these isolated communities difficult. To overcome the geographical barriers, as one staff member recognized, exploiters “are using Facebook to get them from the reserves and into the city. The majority of them are from reserves, and they know who is back home and then they go home and they do recruitment on the reserves because they are connected” (Louie 2016: 143).

A study by Heather Molyneaux and colleagues (2014) of Indigenous people in isolated reserve communities found that individuals engaging in daily social media use were more likely to travel to cities outside their territory. Consistent communication with individuals in cities encourages an ease of transition for otherwise isolated Indigenous people who may be apprehensive about traveling to urban centers. A study carried out by Penny Carpenter and colleagues (2013) in Northern Ontario found that 58.4 percent of the Indigenous women communicated daily with people from outside their community. The age group of participants in Carpenter’s study ranged from 11 to 80, so it is possible that young people in the prime recruitment age of 10 to 13 years may communicate at an even higher rate with individuals from outside the reserve. In the context of the research done by Molyneaux et al. (2014), traveling was viewed as a positive activity for on-reserve populations wanting to broaden their horizons. However, my findings add a layer of complexity to this move toward increased urbanization by indicating that social media is used as a pathway to the sexual exploitation of girls.

Facebook and other social media applications create an environment in which recruitment is invisible to teachers, relatives, and parents. Seshia (2005) points out that in the past recruitment was conducted in person. Gary Gottfredson (2013) found that teachers and administrators in gang-targeted schools were often naïvely unaware of the realities of in-person recruitment. Totten (2012) and others like Hoogland (2010) have stated that gang recruitment of Indigenous girls is primarily motivated by sexual exploitation, whether they are to be used to generate revenue on the streets or to be sexually abused in gangs so as to recruit male gang members. Given that school faculty and administration staff often fail to recognize physical attempts at recruitment (Gottfredson 2013), the prospect of recruiters intervening unseen through social media is increasingly likely. This is, of course, cause for concern.

I identified Facebook as the medium most often used to recruit Indigenous girls into exploitation. The pathways and isolation experienced by submissives, the subgroup Michel Dorais and Patrice Corriveau (2009) recognize as being the most commonly exploited, create a fertile environment for charismatic boys or popular girls to entice young people, with promises of excitement and companionship, to urbanize. Isolated reserves are often viewed as having nothing to offer youth, making recruitment in these areas far easier and more desirable. Submissives are frequently runaways who tend to lack an emotional familial support network (Dorais and Corriveau 2009; Seshia 2005). Predators provide what appears to be a safe and caring space, using a tactic called love bombing that stresses extreme affection and gift giving at the outset of a relationship (Kingsley and Mark 2000; Louie 2016). Once the girls become emotionally or substance dependent, predators begin demanding repayment for the gifts and drugs. In other instances, love bombing is used to gain the trust and love of Indigenous girls, who are then beaten and held captive until they submit to their captor’s demands (Louie 2016).

During the love bombing phase, predators, most often gang members, create a drug dependency in recruitment targets. In some cases, the girls are hooked using deception by being given cigarettes laced with marijuana and heavier drugs like cocaine and heroin (Dorais and Corriveau 2009). An Indigenous gang member reported carrying out love bombing by forcing addiction then locking his victims in a room for days until they submitted to his authority (Totten 2009). According to Anette Sikka’s (2009) study, several participants claimed that gangs were increasingly governing the sex trade because of their monopoly of the drug market. On becoming addicted, girls believed they had no other recourse but to enter the sex trade in order to repay their perceived debt to dealers and boyfriends.

Love bombing is often achieved in contemporary Indigenous recruitment by connections established through Facebook and other social media sites. Teachers in Prince Albert claimed that otherwise respectful boys were preying on girls newly arrived from the reserve. In the circles of gang members and predators, it became common knowledge that new arrivals from the reserve were susceptible to love bombing and other tactics. Instead of waiting for new arrivals, predators have become decidedly more proactive and now motivate new recruits to urbanize under false pretences (Louie 2016). As mentioned above, historically, predators would visit reserve communities physically on recruitment excursions, but the vast distances and the danger of being detected proved a deterrent to applying these tactics. The ease with which social media allows a wide net to be cast across dozens of reserves in the region has proven a boon for predatory individuals.

A Tool of the Sex Trade

Historically, exploitation has occurred in two distinct ways. First, underage girls are involved in the survival sex trade, exchanging sexual favors for housing, food, protection, and transportation. Police believe this type of exploitation has become more common. Second, underage girls used to be found on what is known as the stroll, sections of town bustling with street-level solicitation. Both aspects of exploitation have been influenced by the emergence of social media. In my research in Prince Albert, I found that staff and police specializing in exploitation had noted the decline in street-level exploitation. Prince Albert Outreach operated a van service providing basic health and support to sex trade workers and children experiencing homelessness, but funding cuts made continuing the service untenable, thus removing the only safety net available to the most vulnerable sector of Prince Albert’s population. Prince Albert Outreach staff members commented on the conspicuous absence of the youngest girls, 15 and younger, on the streets in the last year of the van service. Despite their initial cautious optimism, I discovered that the recruitment of underage girls was relocating from the streets to online media to avoid unwanted attention from the police (Louie 2016). Supported by social media, pimps were now adept in connecting exploitation victims with dates while hidden behind the veil of anonymity provided by the Internet.

The impact of media recruitment on street-level exploitation in Calgary, according to my current study there, is drastic in this contemporary technological age. Calgary police and intervention staff fervently emphasize the decrease in the strolls in Calgary over the past decade. Previously, seven active strolls existed in the city, known by the letters of the alphabet from A to G. Each stroll corresponded with the price of dates or the specific women, girls, boys, and men who populated the streets. Police and service staff discovered in recent years that the strolls had been reduced to one or two locations. At first glance this could be mistaken as an encouraging sign, but on closer inspection it becomes clear that social media has established a new venue for exploitative recruitment and sex trade activity. Backpage, a decidedly unambiguous Internet site aimed directly at the sex industry, was continually referenced in the interviews I conducted as the primary social media site replacing the strolls. The online community created via Backpage allows predators and johns to interact and establish a market for the exploitative sex trade. Comprehensive studies in the 2000s, like those of Cherry Kingsley and Melanie Mark (2000) and Seshia (2005), do not emphasize the role of social media in the sexual exploitation of girls because the arena for this was still primarily the street.

As already pointed out, the growth of social media has offered anonymity and access to predators. A report by Tavia Grant (2016) in The Globe and Mail also identified the growth of Backpage. The report, which was not Indigenous specific, offered clear references to the exploitation and trafficking ubiquitous on the site: “The ads are for escort services but use code words that suggest a girl is underage, such as ‘fresh,’ ‘innocent’ or ‘new to scene.’ Some simply say ‘young.’ Also, girls can be listed by ethnicity (‘native’) and ‘available 24/7’ is one tipoff they’re being trafficked.”

In the interviews I conducted in Prince Albert in 2014, I noted repeated references to Facebook as the primary mechanism used both for recruitment and exploitation activity, but there was not a single mention of Backpage in any of them, while in the earliest set of my Calgary interviews in 2016 there were constant references to this site. Perhaps, because Prince Albert has approximately 35,000 residents, compared to more than a million in Calgary, online markets like Backpage are untenable there. Another possibility is that Facebook is currently an effective site for Prince Albert recruiters, leaving no reason to shift the market into the public sphere of Backpage. Regardless of why Prince Albert and Calgary recruitment practices differ, the constant evolution of the social media landscape is clearly influencing the sexual exploitation of Indigenous girls (Louie 2016).

The migration of exploitation sites into social media has restricted the likelihood of intervention programs or police forces identifying sexually exploited youth. The use of sites like Facebook and Backpage have removed youth from the streets and restricted the potential of intervention support like that now discontinued Prince Albert Outreach van and other services that offered basic necessities similar to this and that also afforded these young exploited people the prospect of leaving the streets and, perhaps, sex work altogether. Social media education has a limited opportunity to affect the day-to-day exploitation activities, compared to the significant possibilities of effecting change by impeding pathways to recruitment.

Constant Connection

Beyond creating a forum for anonymous exploitation activity that removes the youngest girls from the street, social media has ensured that the exploited are constantly connected with pimps and are always available for dates. Social justice programs like Prince Albert Outreach have proved remarkably successful in supporting Indigenous youth to avoid the pitfalls of street life (Hoogland 2010; Totten 2009). The invisibility of being connected to predators and dates through social media poses an entirely new challenge to educators wanting to support this population. Young people are increasingly connected to social media throughout their day. A study in the United States (Len-Ríos et al. 2016) revealed that two-thirds of youth aged 8 to 17 have a Facebook account, and 20 percent check their profile at least five times a day. Molyneaux et al. (2014) found that Indigenous people in isolated reserve communities were using social media daily at a rate of 72.8 percent. The age range in their study was from 8 to 60, making it difficult to establish the specific usage for Indigenous girls in the target demographic.

Staff at the Won Ska Cultural School witnessed one student, whom they knew to be active in the sex trade, communicating with a john over Facebook. Shortly thereafter, the student raced out of the school into an unknown vehicle in which she returned some time later. It became apparent to staff that students were using the school computers to remain connected to pimps and johns. Furthermore, employees at the Youth Activity Centre (YAC), an afterschool space designed to give youth a safe alternative to the streets, saw similar behavior from many girls (Louie 2016). The emergence of social media has made it possible for any environment with an Internet connection or smartphone signal to become a hub of sex trade activity, normalizing exploitation and creating hazardous environments out of previously safe spaces.

Academics and practitioners recognize safe spaces for youth experiencing homelessness a necessity (Louie 2016). Stephen Gaetz (2004) has stressed that a range of physical threats specific to girls and women are consistent realities of street life. The availability of safe spaces, like the Won Ska Cultural School and the YAC, provide youth experiencing homelessness and unsafe home lives a reprieve from relentless danger. Social media removes the protective nature of safe spaces by populating the environment with predatory messages and threats. Staff at Won Ska and YAC shared a disturbing range of examples of having to physically remove individuals who were contaminating the safe spaces provided in these buildings. To expel the threat created by constant communication through social media has proved far more difficult. In one instance, a youth was able to recruit seven of her classmates into exploitation before the pattern was recognized (Louie 2016). Even if constant communication does not result in direct recruitment, the contamination of the space by exploitation on social media imperils the entire community in this environment.

Constant communication through social media is inherently neutral; the outcomes depend on the relationship and aims of the individuals. Carpenter et al. (2013) researched the use of information and communications technologies by Indigenous women in isolated reserve communities. Their study found that constant connection via social media supports health and wellness as well as cultural preservation. The social service providers I interviewed in Prince Albert and Calgary reiterated the constant connection afforded by social media. A teacher participating in the study believed that the appearance of smartphones on students from impoverished backgrounds was an indicator of exploitation. In these cases, exploiters provide girls with phones in order to monitor their activity constantly and connect them with dates through Facebook and other online media. Understanding the early warning signs of exploitation furnishes educators with a rudimentary tool kit to address the potential dangers of social media.

Existing Preventative Measures

Existing prevention education related to social media use is limited to helping children become vigilant for sexual predators (Jones et al. 2012) or to become cognizant of the consequences of sexting. International campaigns in England and Australia aim to give sext education to students regarding the dangers and pitfalls of sending sexually explicit messages or content (Dobson and Ringrose 2016). The situation for Indigenous girls on reserves creates unique circumstances in which the potential threats are less obvious. Although some of the non-Indigenous-specific prevention education has relevance for reserve populations, the recruiters using social media in the Indigenous context are more likely to be friends or relatives. Moreover, my research findings did not uncover any discussion of sexting; instead, the dangers were based on encouraging Indigenous girls to come to the city, either for a single event or a long-term move.

Sonia Livingstone has asserted that children’s main objective in social media is “not to meet strangers or disclose personal information but to make new friends, build relationships and widen their circle of contacts” (2014: 284). I found that Indigenous girls in reserve communities surrounding Prince Albert had the same goals (Louie 2016). The situation is unique because the widening circle of friends may contain predators. A related study by Elizabeth Staksrud and colleagues (2013) found that the development of social media competency actually increased risky behavior in adolescents. Improved social media skills often result in attaining more contacts and venturing into a wider range of applications. Connecting with a larger pool of people in multiple social media sites increases exposure to potentially risky behavior. Although existing social media education will likely have a positive effect on Indigenous girls, glaring omissions fail to address the love bombing tactics prevalent in their online experiences.

What Preventative Education Could Look Like

Educators concentrating on social media awareness have an opportunity and a responsibility to educate Indigenous communities and their allies about the nefarious facets of social media that lures girls into sexually exploitative situations. Designing curricula that address the role of this technology in active exploitation presents an imposing barrier. Unfortunately, by the time victims are held captive, no amount of social media savvy can free them. Instead, social media education beyond preparing Indigenous girls to recognize recruitment attempts must be aimed at authorities who can disrupt the exploitation being carried out via online networks. Police forces have reported using social media networks to track and arrest predators advertising the services of underage girls. This was a response to police recognizing that “it’s online now, very few are on the stroll anymore … we conduct [online] sting activities.”3

Outreach staff in Prince Albert maintained that once Indigenous girls have vanished into online exploitation, limited access makes intervention nearly impossible. One teacher commented that predators find a “little girl [who] does not have any self-esteem or is lonely and they just zoom in on that and manipulate” (Louie 2016: 151). This reality speaks to the imperative of creating and setting up preventive education. By the time the victims mature and are freed from the confines of their captors, they have been drug addicted and have endured exploitation for years; such trauma is difficult to heal. Curricula designed for parents, teachers, and school administrators that can illuminate the signs of exploitation at the earliest stages, making intervention possible prior to youth becoming fully immersed in exploitation, is needed.

The task of equipping girls with increased exposure to exploitation with the skills to decipher which friends and relatives are luring them into a compromising environment is daunting. Designing prevention education that limits Indigenous girls’ contact with friends and relatives would be misguided and would inevitably end in failure. Collaboration with Indigenous peoples to understand practical responses to these threats would promote the mobilization of community knowledge and resources (Smith 2012) and should be explored.4

Family-based prevention, a critical element of prevention education through nonviolent technologies of social media, is grounded in the recommendations of exploitation survivors and support staff. A recurring question that emerged during the interviews I conducted was the feasibility of creating family-based prevention. Teachers expressed overwhelming support for including parents and siblings in the classroom. As one teacher put it, “To have the entire family involved in the processes would be awesome” (Louie 2016: 206). Included in the recommendations from exploitation survivors were specific classroom projects imbued with family-based activities. It is imperative that family-based prevention does not devolve into a vehicle limited to assigning blame and uncovering sexual abuse. Instead, classes can equip families trapped in cycles of trauma with the skills necessary to develop coping mechanisms and healthy relationships.

Parents can be educated simultaneously with their children to recognize seemingly innocuous connections in social media that have ulterior motives. Moreover, responsibility for prevention can be expanded beyond the purview of adolescent girls who are the victims of systemic predatory behavior tacitly accepted in Canadian society. Administrators, teachers, and parents can work in concert to detect recruitment attempts or spot behavior that indicates grooming. Family-based prevention is aspirational and will take significant community support and strong leadership in the schools to succeed. It must be remembered that pathways to recruitment often coincide with a traumatic home life and that this may lead parents to resist participating in prevention education for a variety of reasons.

Social media awareness based on the availability of technologies of nonviolence and on the dangers of the seemingly innocuous technologies specifically tailored to the needs of Indigenous girls can mitigate the considerable threat created through this medium. Unlike social media education aimed at the broader population, Indigenous girls need to be educated on the specific tactics used by predators on media platforms that are in and of themselves neutral. In the spirit of Smith’s (2012) empowering principles, research participants in my earlier study and in my current research project have asserted that Indigenous women with lived experience in exploitation should be given the opportunity to contribute as educators. One survivor in Prince Albert spoke of her hesitancy to trust anyone too removed from the realities of life in this environment. “[The educators] went to post-secondary and they read it all from a book … The ones that don’t know [the reality of sexual exploitation] from a hole in the ground, avoid them” (Louie 2016: 183). A staff member interviewed in Calgary shared similar insight, claiming that once girls detect a lack of street terminology and reference to lived experience, they may distance themselves from potential educators. “They would say ‘you’ve never walked the streets. You’ve never had an addiction’ … but over the years I’ve learned to talk their language.”5

The collaborators in my Prince Albert study argued that a range of teachers is needed to effectively educate on complex issues. Aunts, grandmothers, community leaders, Indigenous women who have successfully urbanized, and Indigenous women who have been recruited all have unique perspectives that can support prevention education. Curriculum concentrating on the increased threat created by social media can most effectively be taught by survivors of sexual exploitation, especially women who have recently exited the sex trade. Warnings from teachers go unheard, and students who fancy themselves well versed in social media may perceive individuals who speak theoretically as being overly cautious. Conversely, hearing firsthand accounts from women with experience in exploitation may prove to have greater impact. In this way, perhaps Facebook could be used as a technology of nonviolence to help mitigate the earlier effects of its use as one of violence against these girls.

Building from the strength of the lived experience, we can also rely on the Indigenous knowledges present in traditional communities to be translated into academic theory. To encourage systemic change, stakeholders must honor transformational Indigenous theory. As a means of highlighting the possibilities of applying theory in this context, I suggest we focus on the frameworks of Little Bear (2000, 2016) and Smith (2012).

The facets of Little Bear’s (2000, 2016) framework that are translatable to education in this context are constant flux and renewal; he contends that traditional Indigenous epistemologies respect the dynamic nature of the world. The constant flux that governs the ontological assumptions of Indigenous peoples requires a complex approach to knowledge. In a lecture on Blackfoot metaphysics, Little Bear (2016) stated that the renewal of knowledge is required to engage with the shifting nature of the world beneath one’s feet. The concepts of constant flux and renewal are evident in the impact of social media on Indigenous girls. The advent of social media and its impact on the nature of communication and social introductions are telltale signs of constant flux. Recognizing the shifts encouraged by social media, and the continued shifts within these media, is imperative for mitigating pathways to exploitation. Educators and curriculum designers must continually renew their knowledge of social media and exploitation tactics to respond to the constant flux of predatory behavior. The example of the differences I have discussed above between social media applications used to govern exploitation in Prince Albert and Calgary provide an indisputable example of constant flux in action. Could using Facebook as a power for good rather than harm be part of such flux?

Decolonizing Methodologies, first published by Linda Tuhiwai Smith in 1999, is a groundbreaking text that has empowered academics to employ Indigenous ways of knowing in scholarly research. Academia has historically been dominated by Western ways of knowing, marginalizing different knowledge traditions and framing the dominant perspective as the only legitimate one. Smith challenges the hegemony of Western thought in academia and presents 25 Indigenous principles of decolonizing. Colleagues and I (Louie et al. forthcoming) have reimagined these principles into the field of pedagogy. In building on this transformation from research to pedagogy, stakeholders can apply them in an educational context related to Indigenous girls and social media. While doing so, it is imperative that we resist relying on a Western interpretation that would neutralize the Indigenizing elements of this process.

Each principle can have transformational impact, but here I will discuss only one— intervening—to demonstrate the practical application of this theory. The Indigenous perspective on intervening goes beyond an action and carries an intent, described by Smith as “the process of being proactive and of becoming involved as an interested worker for change” (2012: 148). In this context, educators would learn to understand the application of social media to exploitation as a prelude to changing it. The concept of understanding oppression or the normalization prior to embodying an agent of change runs parallel to Max Horkheimer’s three assumptions of critical theory, which state that the world is an unequal place, inequality is often invisible or normalized, and the requirement of acting on this knowledge (see Brookfield and Holst 2014). Becoming a worker interested in, and dedicated to change, as Smith makes clear, dismantles the arbitrary barriers that often separate on-reserve schools from the communities they are intended to serve. Working together with community members and individuals who have experienced exploitation gives educators an opportunity to gain practical experience in the field and honor the knowledge of those with lived experience.

Conclusion

Social media has emerged as a critical element of recruitment and activity in relation to sexual exploitation. I learned that “they use lots of social media activities … mass mobilization of social media for gangs and the sex trade” (Louie 2016: 151). As has been noted in other studies (see, e.g., Carpenter et al. 2013), First Nations groups have adopted social media to foster stronger communities and revive their cultures. Here we see the application of Bock’s notion of technologies of nonviolence. Although the medium itself is neutral, education, media, elections, and countless other facets of modern-day life have been influenced in one way or another by social media and the uses to which it has been put. This includes the violent manipulation and oppression of Indigenous girls. The growth of social media as a tool to recruit Indigenous girls and maintain their sexual exploitation makes responsive education, including the use of technologies of nonviolence, imperative. Follow-up studies are required to test social media education for Indigenous communities; applying the brief framework outlined in this article is a step in this process.

The overwhelming overrepresentation of Indigenous girls in sexually exploitative situations is a critical issue that has gone under-researched for far too long (Hoogland 2010; Kingsley and Mark 2000; Louie 2016; Seshia 2005; Sethi 2007; Totten 2009). The use of violent social media as a new pathway to exploitation is one finding within a much larger problem—the fundamental issue is racism and sexism in Canadian culture that has allowed Indigenous women to be devalued and viewed as disposable sexual objects. The Indigenous knowledges honored in this article provide a potential parallel to technologies of nonviolence. A confluence of projects is needed to attend to the multifaceted systemic issues oppressing Indigenous women. Truth and reconciliation with non-Indigenous Canadians is imperative to shift and remedy the sexualized perspective of Indigenous femininity (TRC 2015). Moreover, potential johns and predators who participate in educational programs can help to limit the toxic environment Indigenous girls are often made to navigate. Expansive education for Indigenous girls experiencing an increased threat of exploitation must attend to each element of those identified pathways listed above and the recruitment mechanisms. Building from the findings presented in this article, specific education that addresses the increased threat inherent in this use of social media can address one aspect of the larger problem; we need a critical mass of respectful educators if we are to reverse the abhorrent history of Indigenous women being oppressed in Canada.

Notes
1

The term Indigenous is used to include all Indigenous peoples of Canada. It includes those defined as First Nation, Metis, and Inuit, as well as other mixed-raced Indigenous people.

2

For a deeper analysis of each of these pathways, recruitment strategies, and pedagogical recommendations see Louie et al. (forthcoming).

3

Anonymous personal communication, 10 June 2016.

4

Smith (2012) has encouraged academics to have humility in their research that can be displayed when they are entering a community and in proving their desire to collaborate to find sustainable solutions.

5

Anonymous personal communication, 16 May 2016.

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  • Louie, Dustin W. 2016. “Preventative Education for Indigenous Girls Vulnerable to the Sex Trade.” PhD diss., University of Calgary.

  • Louie, Dustin W., Yvonne Poitras Pratt, Aubrey Hanson, and Jacqueline Ottmann. Forthcoming. “Applying Indigenizing Principles of Decolonizing Methodologies in University Classrooms.” Canadian Journal of Higher Education.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Molyneaux, Heather, Susan O’Donnell, Crystal Kakekaspan, Brian Walmark, Philipp Budka, and Kerri Gibson. 2014. “Social Media in Remote First Nation Communities.” Canadian Journal of Communication 39 (2): 275288. doi:10.22230/cjc.2014v39n2a2619.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • NWAC (Native Women’s Association of Canada). 2014. Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking of Aboriginal Women and Girls: Literature Review and Key Informant Interviews. https://www.nwac.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/2014_NWAC_Human_Trafficking_and_Sexual_Exploitation_Report.pdf.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Seshia, Maya. 2005. The Unheard Speak Out: Street Sexual Exploitation in Winnipeg. Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. https://www.policyalternatives.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/Manitoba_Pubs/2005/The_Unheard_Speak_Out.pdf.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sethi, Anupriya. 2007. “Domestic Sex Trafficking of Aboriginal Girls in Canada: Issues and Implications.” First Peoples Child and Family Review 3 (3): 5771. http://journals.sfu.ca/fpcfr/index.php/FPCFR/article/view/50/88.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sikka, Anette. 2009. Trafficking of Aboriginal Women and Girls in Canada. Ottawa: Institute on Governance and the Office of the Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-status Indians. http://iog.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/May-2009_trafficking_of_aboriginal_women-1.pdf.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. 2012. Decolonizing Methodologies. 2nd ed. London: Zed Books.

  • Staksrud, Elizabeth, Kjarten Ólafsson, and Sonia Livingstone. “Does the Use of Social Networking Sites Increase Children’s Risk of Harm?Computers in Human Behavior 29 (1): 4050. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2012.05.026.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Totten, Mark. 2012. Nasty, Brutish, and Short: The Lives of Gang Members in Canada. Toronto: James Lorimer & Co.

  • Totten, Mark. 2009. “Preventing Aboriginal Youth Gang Involvement in Canada: A Gendered Approach.” In Aboriginal Policy Research, Volume VIII: Exploring the Urban Landscape, ed. Jodi White and Jerry Bruhn, 256279. Toronto: Thompson Educational Publishing.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada). 2015. Canada’s Residential Schools: Reconciliation—The Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, vol. 6. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

Filmography

Little Bear, Leroy. 2016. “Blackfoot Metaphysics: Waiting in the Wings.” YouTube video, 1:03:09. Posted by “IdeasIdees,” 1 June. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_txPA8CiA4&t=2815s (accessed 7 November 2016).

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Contributor Notes

Dustin William Louie, an Indigenous scholar from the Nadleh Whut’en and Nee Tahi Buhn First Nations, is a tenure-track Assistant Professor in the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary. Currently, he is undertaking a three-year study in Calgary, funded by the Alberta Human Rights Commission, which will see research findings on sexual exploitation of Indigenous girls translated into preventative programming for on-reserve schools. E-mail: dwlouie@ucalgary.ca

Girlhood Studies

An Interdisciplinary Journal

  • Bock, Joseph G. 2012. The Technology of Nonviolence: Social Media and Violence Prevention. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  • Brookfield, Stephen, and John Holst. 2014. “A Critical Theory Perspective on Program Development.” In Andragogical and Pedagogical Methods for Curriculum and Program Development, ed. Victor C. X. Wang and Valerie C. Bryan, 121. Hershey, PA: IGI Global. doi:10.4018/978-1-4666-5872-1.ch001.

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  • Carpenter, Penny, Kerri Gibson, Crystal Kakekaspan, and Susan O’Donnell. 2013. “How Women in Remote and Rural First Nation Communities Are Using Information and Communications Technologies (ICT).” Journal of Rural and Community Development 8 (2): 7997. http://journals.brandonu.ca/jrcd/article/view/1001.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Dobson, Amy Shields, and Jessica Ringrose. 2016. “Sext Education: Pedagogies of Sex, Gender and Shame in the Schoolyards of Tagged and Exposed.” Sex Education 16 (1): 821. doi:10.1080/14681811.2015.1050486.

    • Crossref
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    • Export Citation
  • Dorais, Michel, and Corriveau, Patrice. Gangs and Girls: Understanding Juvenile Prostitution. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

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    • Export Citation
  • Gaetz, Stephen. 2004. “Safe Streets for Whom? Homeless Youth, Social Exclusion, and Criminal Victimization.” Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice 46 (4): 423456. doi:10.3138/cjccj.46.4.423.

    • Crossref
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    • Export Citation
  • Gottfredson, Gary D. 2013. “What Can Schools Do to Help Prevent Gang-Joining?” In Changing Course: Preventing Gang Membership, ed. Thomas R. Simon, Nancy M. Ritter, and Reshma R. Mahendra, 89104. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Grant, Tavia. 2016. “The Trafficked: How Sex Trafficking Works in Canada.” The Globe and Mail, 10 February. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/the-trafficked-how-sex-trafficking-works-in-canada/article28700689.

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    • Export Citation
  • Hoogland, Michelle, with Sarah Hunt and Pamela Redden. 2010. Gangs, Girls and Sexual Exploitation in British Columbia: Community Consultation Paper. Victoria, BC: Abbotsford Youth Commission. http://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/public-safety-and-emergency-services/crime-prevention/community-crime-prevention/publications/gang-prevention-girls-sexual-exploitation.pdf.

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  • Jones, Lisa M., Kimberly J. Mitchell, and David Finkelhor. 2012. “Trends in Youth Internet Victimization: Findings from Three Youth Internet Safety Surveys 2000–2010.” Journal of Adolescent Health 50 (2): 179186. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2011.09.015.

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    • Export Citation
  • Kingsley, Cherry, and Melanie Mark. 2000. Sacred Lives: Canadian Aboriginal Children and Youth Speak Out about Sexual Exploitation. Toronto: National Aboriginal Consultation Project. http://publications.gc.ca/collections/Collection/RH34-12-2000E.pdf.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Len-Ríos, María E., Hilary E. Hughes, Laura McKee, and Henry Young. 2016. “Early Adolescents as Publics: A National Survey of Teens with Social Media Accounts, Their Media Use Preferences, Parental Mediation, and Perceived Internet Literacy.” Public Relations Review 42 (1): 101108. doi:10.1016/j.pubrev.2015.10.003.

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  • Little Bear, Leroy. 2000. “Jagged Worldviews Colliding.” In Reclaiming Indigenous Voice and Vision, ed. Marie Battiste, 7785. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.

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    • Export Citation
  • Livingstone, Sonia. 2014. “Developing Social Media Literacy: How Children Learn to Interpret Risky Opportunities on Social Network Sites.” Communications 39 (3): 283303. doi:10.1515/commun-2014-0113.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Louie, Dustin W. 2016. “Preventative Education for Indigenous Girls Vulnerable to the Sex Trade.” PhD diss., University of Calgary.

  • Louie, Dustin W., Yvonne Poitras Pratt, Aubrey Hanson, and Jacqueline Ottmann. Forthcoming. “Applying Indigenizing Principles of Decolonizing Methodologies in University Classrooms.” Canadian Journal of Higher Education.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Molyneaux, Heather, Susan O’Donnell, Crystal Kakekaspan, Brian Walmark, Philipp Budka, and Kerri Gibson. 2014. “Social Media in Remote First Nation Communities.” Canadian Journal of Communication 39 (2): 275288. doi:10.22230/cjc.2014v39n2a2619.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • NWAC (Native Women’s Association of Canada). 2014. Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking of Aboriginal Women and Girls: Literature Review and Key Informant Interviews. https://www.nwac.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/2014_NWAC_Human_Trafficking_and_Sexual_Exploitation_Report.pdf.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Seshia, Maya. 2005. The Unheard Speak Out: Street Sexual Exploitation in Winnipeg. Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. https://www.policyalternatives.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/Manitoba_Pubs/2005/The_Unheard_Speak_Out.pdf.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sethi, Anupriya. 2007. “Domestic Sex Trafficking of Aboriginal Girls in Canada: Issues and Implications.” First Peoples Child and Family Review 3 (3): 5771. http://journals.sfu.ca/fpcfr/index.php/FPCFR/article/view/50/88.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sikka, Anette. 2009. Trafficking of Aboriginal Women and Girls in Canada. Ottawa: Institute on Governance and the Office of the Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-status Indians. http://iog.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/May-2009_trafficking_of_aboriginal_women-1.pdf.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. 2012. Decolonizing Methodologies. 2nd ed. London: Zed Books.

  • Staksrud, Elizabeth, Kjarten Ólafsson, and Sonia Livingstone. “Does the Use of Social Networking Sites Increase Children’s Risk of Harm?Computers in Human Behavior 29 (1): 4050. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2012.05.026.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Totten, Mark. 2012. Nasty, Brutish, and Short: The Lives of Gang Members in Canada. Toronto: James Lorimer & Co.

  • Totten, Mark. 2009. “Preventing Aboriginal Youth Gang Involvement in Canada: A Gendered Approach.” In Aboriginal Policy Research, Volume VIII: Exploring the Urban Landscape, ed. Jodi White and Jerry Bruhn, 256279. Toronto: Thompson Educational Publishing.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada). 2015. Canada’s Residential Schools: Reconciliation—The Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, vol. 6. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Little Bear, Leroy. 2016. “Blackfoot Metaphysics: Waiting in the Wings.” YouTube video, 1:03:09. Posted by “IdeasIdees,” 1 June. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_txPA8CiA4&t=2815s (accessed 7 November 2016).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

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