Winnipeg police said 21 missing youth were found and taken to a safe location during a joint initiative aimed at protecting young people who are at risk of sexual exploitation.

Between April 26 and April 28 the Winnipeg police, in partnership with outreach workers from several Winnipeg organizations, checked 17 different locations known to be frequented by missing youth as part of Project Return.

This initiative resulted in police finding 21 missing young people, as well as arresting seven men between the ages of 18 and 55 for obtaining sexual services for consideration. Officers also made two additional arrests, including an outstanding arrest warrant.

A news release says police seized seven vehicles in connection with prostitution-related offences and conducted three stops to try and deter and identify sex-trade consumers.

Officers note that during this two-day effort 45 harm reduction kits were given out, as well as 20 safe rides.

Winnipeg Police Service Sgt. Rick McDougall said Project Return has been running since 2011 and they were able to locate the missing youth because of the partnerships and different 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 McDougall.

McDougall added that there is a public misconception that the youth chose to be in the position they are in now.

“Nobody chooses to be vulnerable or homeless and nobody chooses to be exploited. They find themselves in that situation through their life circumstances,” said McDougall.