New Quebec program targeting youth aims to stem runaways, teen sexual exploitation

Missing Children's Network director general Pina Arcamone speaks at a press conference announcing a new program to prevent runaways Wednesday, February 14, 2018 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Missing Children's Network director general Pina Arcamone speaks at a press conference announcing a new program to prevent runaways Wednesday, February 14, 2018 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

MONTREAL - The lead actress behind a new gritty Quebec TV series about the harsh reality of running away and being trapped by juvenile prostitution says she hopes to encourage youth to not follow her character's path.

Ludivine Reding plays 16-year-old Fanny in "Fugueuse" ("Runaway"), which has garnered attention for its raw and realistic portrayal of a girl who flees home and finds herself forced into prostitution.

Reding was introduced on Wednesday as the youth ambassador for The Missing Children's Network, which launched a program aimed at combatting the same phenomenon tackled by the show.

Reding told The Canadian Press at the launch it's the realistic portrayal of pimps and prostitution victims that grabs viewers.

"It shocks a lot of people but it is the way to make them understand what these victims are living," said Reding, 21. "I receive a lot of messages from little girls and even older people who say 'I lived this, and I really wanted this to change and I didn't know how to do it.'"

The non-profit organization that helps parents track down their missing kids said the provincewide initiative, dubbed SHINE, will include workshops targeting children between 10 and 13 years old. Seminars broach topics like consent, the right to say no and teaching kids to identify and denounce inappropriate behaviour.

Pina Arcamone, the network's executive director, said of the roughly 5,000 runaway cases in Quebec each year, an estimated one-third become victims of sexual exploitation.

As a goal, the organization says it aims to give 40,000 kids the necessary tools to protect themselves, as well as a list of resources they can consult online.

Among those at the launch was Eric Hauptman, whose own daughter ran away in 2016, before eventually emerging unharmed.

Hauptman described himself as "a father who went through hell" when his daughter fled the family home for eight harrowing days, hanging out with what he described simply as the wrong crowd.

"We went through hell because we never thought we'd see our daughter again," he told reporters. "Today, she is fulfilling her life as best as she can and everything is going well."

Hauptman said what worries him is the insidious nature of luring youth online. He adds that teens go through many issues where their parents aren't always kept in the loop.

"There's no book when you have children," Hauptman said. "In my case, the foundation was solid and I think that's what helped."

Reding said she hopes the TV series, available only in French, will discourage young Quebecers from running away and putting up their guard against smooth-talking pimps trying to manipulate them to do what they don't want to do.

She hopes to bring home that message in her role as an ambassador by providing a familiar face who lived through the consequences — on television.

"I think I can help them understand that it really happens to some people and if they see my face, they'll pay more attention to it," she said.

"I just hope to wake them up a little."

"Fugueuse" began airing in January on Quebec's TVA network.

- Follow @MarinSteph on Twitter.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved. 2018

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