Federal minister Marc Garneau was in Montreal to announce $2.2 million in funding for a program that aims to prevent youth from being lured into prostitution Monday.

The minister of transport announced on behalf of Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale that the federal goverment would fund SPHERE: projet sur l'exploitation sexuelle, which is run by the Centre integre universitaire de sante et de services sociaux du Centre Sud de l'Ile de Montreal (CIUSSS).

"We see hope, that they see another way of living," said SPHERE coordinator Rene-Andre Brisebois. "They see the potential that they can have. They see the work that they can get, so it's all positive when they look forward. They look to a change. They look for a better life."

The five-year SPHERE project supports at-risk young people between 12 and 24 and began in 2017. Over the past two years, the program has helped 60 young people get out of vulnerable situations. Currently another 30 are completing the program. SPHERE officials said the federal money will be enough to help them continue for another three years. 

While girls between the ages of 14 and 17-years-old are the most at-risk when it comes to being recruited into prostitution, CIUSSS du Centre-Sud Director of Youth Protection Assunta Gallo said they have seen cases involving even younger girls.

"Unfortunately we do have children as young as 12 who are involved in sexual exploitation," she said. "You have to remember there's a whole process where they can be groomed."

Gallo said the program also reaches out to boys and LGBTQ teenagers as well.

"We used to say that girls are sexually exploited but we don't talk about boys," she said. "Now we talk about it more often so it takes away some of the shame."

Youth prostitution issues were brought to the forefront in 2016 when a number of girls ran away from a group home in Laval, and suspected of being lured into prostitution.

"The number one wish for the majority of women who are victims of sexual exploitation is to get out of that vicious circle," said Garneau. "I'm confident that this funding will support you in providing a helping hand, a voice of reassurance, and a chance at a successful life transition."

The funding for SPHERE comes through the federal Exiting Prostitution Program of the National Crime Prevention Strategy's Crime Prevention Action Fund

Last year, the provincial government spent $11 million to fight sexual exploitation of youth.