Winnipeg Police made a shocking discovery last month. According to reports, officers located and rescued 21 missing Winnipeg teens during a massive crackdown on the city's youth sex trade. The sting was a joint effort by local police and outreach workers to protect young people at risk of being sexually exploited.

The operation took place over two days, from Friday to Sunday of last week. Police and outreach workers conducted a comprehensive search across 17 spots as part of Project Return, a community effort to aid police in protecting young people. According to CBC News, the locations searched by the police and workers were known hot spots for at-risk teens.

According to a police news release, seven males between the ages of 18-55 were arrested on charges of obtaining sexual services for consideration. Two other men were arrested, "including an outstanding warrant for arrest," and a total of seven vehicles were seized under the Highway Traffic Act for prostitution offences.

The police also revealed that a 108 Crime Prevention Through Social Development contacts were used to assist the victims of sexual exploitation. The contacts included 20 safe rides and 45 harm reduction kits.

Sgt. Rick McDougall of Winnipeg Police Service later commented on the investigation during an interview with CTV, revealing that the youth were only located thanks to the help of the outside agencies that were involved.

“We can’t do this on our own and it’s the partnerships we have that are part of the whole police service business plan and the strategic goal is to leverage those partnerships to protect our vulnerable people,” said Sgt. McDougall.

He also insisted that the youth shared no part in blame regarding how or why they ended up in such circumstances. “Nobody chooses to be vulnerable or homeless and nobody chooses to be exploited. They find themselves in that situation through their life circumstances,” said the sergeant.

According to the Criminal Code of Canada, those under the age of 14 years old cannot legally consent to any sexual activity. Sexual activity is lawfully defined by any kind of sexual contact from sexual touching to intercourse.

At this time, exact figures on the sexual exploitation of youth in Canada cannot be determined due to the fact that victims often do not reach out to authorities.

*This article’s cover image was used for illustrative purposes only.

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