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In the past month, a spate of disappearances involving five teenage runaways, all from a single group home in the Montreal suburb of Laval, has been causing deep worry lines to appear on the foreheads of Quebec parents, journalists, and politicians.
To make matters even more salacious, just about every story on the issue has stated or insinuated that the girls had been lured into prostitution by street gangs. The disappearances had all the necessary elements for a media frenzy: Troubled white suburban teenage girls! Street gangs! The good news is, the five girls eventually were found or returned on their own. Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux said he hoped the new program would lead to more arrests.
It's a move that Sandra Wesley, the executive director of Montreal sex workers' rights group Stella, describes as hypocritical. She says the disappearances of the girls and the government's response are a distraction, hiding the fact that provincial funding of programs aimed explicitly at combating sexual exploitation of youth are drying up, and will run out at the end of March.
It's as if the government gives up on women once they join the sex industry. All the money and effort is being spent on preventing them from entering it, with little left over to help women once they are actually in—whether they are there voluntarily or not.
Stella already lost one outreach worker due to budget cuts last year. The one taking effect as of April 1 will cost them another, reducing their team from seven to five. They'll also be losing the services of a sexologist, who helped sex workers referred by Stella deal with issues they encounter over the course of their careers.