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Horse expedition to raise awareness

Two horsemen riding along a ditch in this neck of the woods may not be out of the ordinary, however, the two Albertans on horseback who passed through Shoal Lake in early June were on a mission.

Leaving Edmonton on May 9, Alick Brooke and Guy Bourassa, passed the 1,000-km mark as they reached Russell travelling east en route to Halifax, N.S. if they and their three horses — two seven-year-old quarter-horses and an eight-year-old Shire — hold out.

Riding 35 to 40 km per day depending on the horses’ moods, energy and the weather, the pair are riding for the Angel Express Society, a non-profit organization, which supports the survivors of child exploitation.

“We are striving to raise awareness and generate funds to support programs that benefit these youth,” said Brooke, a retired chief information officer of Alberta Children’s Services. “Canadians must realize child sexual abuse is a large problem in this country. One in three girls or one in six children will be sexually abused.”

“Riding day in and day out is harder than anything I have done,” said 46-year-old Bourassa, a former professional bareback and bull rider. “I retired from the rodeo circuit a year ago, and upon dealing with the weather — rain, snow, wind — the ride has been an amazing challenge.”

Bourassa said while they have met some great people, financial donations have been slow to come by, a third of the way into the expedition.

“As a society we have failed these kids the first time around and can’t forget the second,” said Brooke, who is the ride’s founder. “Youth who find themselves in this situation feel they are second-class citizens and a lot don’t report the abuse. Their lives can be changed if we can get to them soon enough,” added Brooke, who has worked with children in one way or another for over 38 years.

Takes many forms

Child exploitation can take many forms such as child abuse — physical or sexual — child labour or child trafficking. In recent years the Internet has added a complexity to the problem of child exploitation by making access to child abuse images more readily available. According to The Canadian Press there are more than 60,000 Canadians, and 600,000 Americans involved in the distribution of child abuse images. With numbers this large, it is the responsibility of the people in both countries to do what they can to put a stop to this. Most important is to provide the appropriate support that these children will need to move on with their lives.

A portion of the funds raised by Angel Express will go to those organizations that deal with the criminal aspect of the problem, but the majority will go to those programs that deal with providing support to the children who are victims of exploitation. So much of the attention given to this issue is focused on the criminal aspect. The Angel Express funds will focus primarily on the children impacted by these abusive acts.

Even when these children are removed from the abusive situations, their ordeal is not over. The impact of the experiences that they have gone through will leave emotional scars that these children and their families could deal with every day for the rest of their lives.

Brooke said there are three ways of aiding their cause to find a new normal for these youth. Donations can be passed along with Brooke and Bourassa on their expedition, directly to sexual abuse centres in care of Angel Express, or by visiting the organization’s website theange lexpress.com.

Child sexual exploitation is really the sexual abuse of a child. No child decides to be violated physically, emotionally and psychologically. The devastating results of child sexual exploitation and abuse are long lasting and far reaching. The lost potential for a child who may not be recovered costs every one of us. The time to recognize, speak up against and intervene on this heinous form of abuse which can occur in any community and crosses all social, economic and cultural backgrounds, is now.

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