Characteristics of Helpers
What have youth told us are the most important characteristics of those helpers who have made a difference?
Non-Judgmental: These youth face judgment from teachers, health professionals, peers and peer's family. They need a space where they can be open and honest about the real issues facing them. You will lose a youth's confidence immediately if they sense judgement whatsoever.
Empathy and Compassion: It only takes one adult or person who truly cares about a youth to make all the difference in their lives. Youth who have exited the sex trade often recall one person who believed in them, fought for them and believed in them.
Ability to Establish Rapport: Sexually exploited youth can be difficult to connect with due to general distrust of adults and the system. Being genuine, honest, and mostly YOURSELF with a clear focus on providing support is the best way to build relationships with at-risk youth. Having a general knowledge of issues and topics in youth subculture can help to establish relationships.
Boundaries: Once a professional has established rapport with a sexually exploited youth, these youth may come to rely heavily on the professionals time, money and generosity. It is important to set clear boundaries about your role, time commitment, and capacity to support. Remember these youth are survivors and are capable of completing a lot of tasks on their own. It is also important to encourage natural supports.
Resource Knowledge: Make sure you know the basic community resources such as youth outreach workers, mental health supports, substance use supports, housing and shelter beds, MCFD supports and other means of meeting basic needs.
Persistence: Expect that sexually exploited or at-risk youth will not follow-through a million times. They need to know you will be there for them no matter what, and it needs to be safe for them to come to you without fear they have let you down. Provide ongoing encouragement and support under all circumstances- including substance use relapse or returning to an abusive partner. Make sure you have someone you can process your own fear and frustrations with because it can be terrifying to know a youth you care about is engaged in a high-risk lifestyle. Expect that they might not tell you the truth, and do not take it personally.
Instill Hope: Many sexually exploited youth do not know what a healthy life or a healthy relationship even look like. Help them to believe and see that a good life is possible for them.
Be a Role Model: Do not think that for youth to like you, you need to be "hip" with youth culture. Youth respond to positive role models who believe and see the best in them. It helps them to see their worth and value.