A local victim services worker isn’t surprised to hear of girls as young as 12 having sex with much older males, but is glad charges have been laid.
Sarah Bolton of the Advocacy Centre, who deals with victims of sexual violence, believes such activity has been going on for a long time, although many people may not realize it.
“Older guys going after younger girls isn’t a new story,” she says. “People are always surprised in small towns that it’s happening. It happens everywhere.”
This week Nelson police announced four males, ages 16, 16, 19, and 20, have been charged with sexual interference in unrelated cases. The girls were all under 16.
One suspect was in court this week, while the others will appear before a judge later this summer.
The age of consent in Canada was raised from 14 to 16 in 2008. However, under an exemption clause, 14 and 15 year olds may have partners up to five years older, and 12 and 13 year olds may have partners up to two years older.
Bolton says before the law was passed, she knew of a 14-year-old girl living with a 38-year-old man, “and there was nothing they could do, because it wasn’t against the law.”
Although she says some cases may result from ignorance of the law, others are purely predatory, and leave young women at risk of being exploited. Furthermore, they may not realize when they’re the victims of sexual assaults.
“They’re not adults so they really can’t give consent,” Bolton says. “It does affect them. I deal with women in their 50s and 60s who were sexually assaulted as children and have major problems their whole lives.”
She says the Internet has made it easier to perpetrate “power-based crimes” based on age difference, and points to a recent incident in Castlegar where two young men posted instructions on Facebook on how to lure young teenage girls into having sex.
Bolton says she’s pleased police released information about the cases, placing it on the community’s radar, but she’s unsure if actually represents a recent trend.
“It’s hard to say because it’s so under-reported,” she says. “I think it’s always been happening, but people are becoming a little more educated about it and talking about it more.”
She adds there are many resources and support services available in town, including the Advocacy Centre, Nelson Community Services Centre, and Options for Sexual Health clinics.