This project led by Clan Mothers Healing Village (Clan Mothers) celebrates the lived experience leadership, stories, knowledge, solutions, and actions of persons with lived experiences of sexual exploitation and sex trafficking.
National knowledge gatherings of experiential voices were held across Canada to acknowledge, honour, and learn from persons with lived experience.
Guided by Indigenous Elders, matrilineal ancestral teachings, knowledge, and worldviews, the national collective of experiential voices, leaders, partners, and allies featured in this project share what the solutions are to dismantle sexual exploitation and sex trafficking.
The first-hand experiences, insights, powerful responses, strength, resiliency, and innovative projects, actions, and solutions of the diverse contributors provide a path forward for meaningful and transformational change, ensuring action is taken in a good way to end sexual exploitation and sex trafficking.
For far too long, lived experience voices have been pushed aside or overlooked. Problematically, their invaluable expertise and savoir-faire as content experts have not been prioritized or respected to guide counter sexual exploitation and sex trafficking initiatives.
In 2018, Clan Mothers Healing Village (Clan Mothers) started defining the focus for a nation-wide project. We called out to lived experience leaders across Canada, asking them to share their lived experience leadership, identify what has worked in the past, what is working now, and outline what still needs to be done.
This digital media website is the outcome of this exciting initiative. It celebrates the stories, knowledge, solutions, work, and leadership of persons with lived experiences of sexual exploitation and sex trafficking.
In doing so, it diverts attention away from the victimization pieces related to sexual exploitation and sex trafficking, going beyond them to acknowledge and honour persons with lived experience for their powerful responses, strength, resiliency, rich diversity and inclusivity, innovative prevention and intervention projects, actions, and solutions.
The collective of diverse experiential voices, Indigenous Elders, leaders, partners, and allies that have come together for this project know what the solutions are to dismantle sexual exploitation. These solutions are grounded in the voices of persons with lived experience leadership as well as matrilineal-centred Indigenous holistic healing, principles, and knowledge.
This project is positive, uplifting, hopeful, and of critical importance for the future. The stories being shared by those with first-hand experiences and innovative leadership who have come together in solidarity provide a path forward for meaningful and transformational change, ensuring action is taken in a good way to end sexual exploitation and sex trafficking.
About Clan Mothers
Through time and colonization, Indigenous practices have changed with the historical influence of Eurocentric patriarchal controls. These changes have greatly altered Indigenous matrilineal teachings about women, and have devalued lived experience leadership.
We believe that healing is only possible when we return to our Indigenous models and methodologies of healing. There is a recently renewed movement and respect for the important role and invaluable leadership of persons with lived experience, Grandmothers, and women. They are restoring teachings, values, and practices that were lost as a result of colonization and residential schools.
The success of Clan Mothers’ work over the years, particularly with persons with lived experience of sexual exploitation, has inspired us to expand our reach and capacity to bring substantive change, healing, and hope to our communities.
Our innovative Indigenous-led model focuses on the restoration of our communities based on the matrilineal values and principles of our original self-governance systems. This includes an emphasis on the importance and value of lived experience leadership.
Our guiding principles are culturally safe environments, Indigenous world-views, creating sustainable change, and Indigenous self-determination.
Through time and colonization, Indigenous practices have changed with the historical influence of Euro-centric patriarchal controls. These changes have greatly altered Indigenous views, particularly about women and girls, and have devalued lived experience leadership. We believe that healing is only possible when we return to our Indigenous models and methodologies of healing.
There is a recently renewed movement and respect for the important role and invaluable leadership of experiential voices, Grandmothers, and women. They are restoring teachings, values, and practices that were lost as a result of colonization and residential schools.
Following the success we have had in the past, we recognize the opportunity to better serve and walk alongside those with lived experiences of sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, and human trafficking, using Indigenous holistic methodologies to bring substantive change, healing, and hope to our communities across Canada.
While it was not possible to include every powerful quote or story, each word shared in circle and each contribution to this project informed its themes, messages, take-aways, and design. Indeed, each individual who participated in this initiative over the course of the past two years is part of the collective whole represented herein. As such, we acknowledge and thank all those who participated.
Special thanks go to the following: Elder Mae Louise Campbell, Elder Belinda Vandenbroeck, Elder Billie Schibler, Elder Laurie Mackenzie, Elder Charlotte Nolin, Elder Audrey DeRoy, Project Director Jamie Goulet, Brenda Flamand, Charlene Gladue, Dr. Karlee Sapoznik Evans, Jennifer Richardson, Jessica German, Kane Kirton, Kim Trossel, Michelle Harrison, Suzanne Braun, Val Monk, and Kono Films (Charles Konowal, Nik Konowal, and Tarama Roshka).
The regions and/or communities of the lived experience leaders who contributed to this project are profiled in the following map.
Each lived experience leader shared a sentence about why lived experience leadership is important as well as a key message, solution, or action for your consideration.
We wish to express gratitude to Mother Earth for the resources we are using, and honour all of the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people who have been living on the land since time immemorial.
We are not all Indigenous and we do not all come from a reserve or are even First Nations/Treaty, but we are all the same.
Access to more education for youth on and off reserve about sexual exploitation.
I believe lived experience leadership is critical in this aspect because the more we speak out, the more we are reclaiming our power after being dehumanized and silenced.
I envision policies and criminal penalties reflecting that Indigenous women, those who are economically disadvantaged, children in care, etc., are most at risk and I would like to see this reflected by increased protection, education, and resources for these demographics.
With the expertise of experiential workers and leaders, we can create a clearer picture of what is real and not real.
With all of the country banded together, I feel we can change policies surrounding these issues and safety of women.
I believe that individuals with lived experience of sexual exploitation and the sex trade bring insights, wisdom, and perspectives that are critical to informing the best approaches to prevention and intervention. Without these perspectives, there is great potential for re-victimization and “well-intended” support services fostering more harm than healing.
I would love to see a survivors’ lens and voice informing positive structural change with governments and policy makers. I see a need for immediate changes to services that will only provide financial support to individuals who are “ready to exit”. I would like to see a shift toward greater harm reduction strategies for those still active in the sex-trade — services that lead to better outcomes for women, girls, and other vulnerable demographics.
It is very important to have our voices heard.
I would like to see people change their thinking about sex trade workers while they are still working. These are people with very deep problems.
I feel that experiential voices are needed as true experts when it comes to explaining how it happened and how we exited, what worked, and did not work. To move forward, we need to have an open dialogue surrounding our experiences and our exiting journeys.
I have been a part of legal change. I think my truths around the issue are more factual than those of some PhDs. I think that law makers need to have an experiential voice provide input on what the laws should look like or how they can help.
We bring the reality of the actual lived experiences to the discussions.
We need more lived experience leaders involved in education and prevention.
I would like us to form a coalition that will force the government to listen to us and heed what advice and guidance we give them – a coalition that they will automatically turn to. I want us to be the people that are the voice(s) on this issue.
I am passionate about fighting what I call the pro pimp sector. We need to deal with the demand side!
Lived experienced leadership can educate the public with compassion, empathy, and understanding that sexual exploitation and the sex trade are not a personal problem; rather, they are social and systemic problems.
Make public service education more available on this topic.
Lived experience leadership brings the exceptional view of women who have endured, survived, and overcome the lifestyle. That makes our voice the most important.
We need long term healing options that are culturally designed and non-judgemental.
The truth / reality needs to be seen and heard.
Education and awareness.
Helping to promote and create a 24/7 safe place for our women.
Going into the communities to provide education and prevention.
The youth have voiced that they trust us to help.
Have a way to earn money and develop new skills. Reclaim the power and control to heal our wounded spirits by returning to the land and matriarchal leadership in ceremony.
In order to provide true liberation, one must have been liberated themselves.
Immediate safe housing with a plan for transitional support for youth who are at risk.
Our experience gives us an understanding and we can listen with that knowledge.
We need access to more cultural supports and ceremonies in our healing.
Only people with lived experience know the inside operations and how things are run.
Educating the public on the signs someone is being exploited or doing the exploiting.
Our voices, our healing, and healed voices tell the truth about the true nature of prostitution.
There is no “one answer” to stopping demand. It takes a whole village.
We hold great wisdom and knowledge. And we have an obligation to share our expertise, passion, help change the narrative, and disseminate truth to our youth and communities of the harms caused by commercial sexual exploitation.
Through my work in the past decade, I have been able to work extensively on state and federal policy to improve laws for buyer accountability, MMIP, and improving the response to commercial sexual exploitation and all forms of human trafficking.
Lived experience leadership provides a level of understanding and awareness that should be considered when implementing changes to policies in relation to sexual exploitation.
Regular consultation and meetings with stakeholders and funders who provide current supports to those that are sexually exploited. Creating more awareness about root causes of sexual exploitation, advocating for changes at the community and government levels to understand and develop best practices that will guide the work with this population and how to develop awareness and prevention programs.
I want to let people know that there’s more out there. There’s culture.
I’m hoping for changes by law and policy makers. It’s very hard already being two spirit and adding sex worker is even more dangerous.
It would be great to start creating cracks in the standard way of doing things – creating spaces for what could be possible, and having these dialogues come from a unified and alternative source.
I would like to see out-of-the-box thinking – including folks in this discussion that are often left out – hearing perspectives that are missed.
Every story is different, but we connect through commonalties and learn from each other’s experience.
I have seen lived experience voices make change happen. The “Out of the Shadows and into the Light” summit held in Victoria, BC in 1998 changed the law so that no child could be charged for prostitution or be referred to as a prostitute, as that act is child abuse.
My hope is that every person like me has the same rights to healing resources and housing as other individuals. I still feel like we are treated differently because we come from the sex trade.
I believe that the only way our laws will change is for people like me to help in creating those changes.
As an outreach worker, there was nothing out there for trans people, so I fought for them. And now policies have changed.
I say education to educate the people up North where I’ve done presentations to reserves. I deal directly with trans people and other women who are getting pushed out of their community. They hitch hike their way out. They are beaten. They are not getting any resources. When they do hit the city, there’s nothing for them. That’s where they fall through the cracks.
Provide education on how trauma impacts how we learn and what we need to heal.
We need a horizontal approach – people-to-people and better access to education when exiting.
We need to be listened to in order to help educate systems (education, government, health care, etc.) about the realities of the long-term effects of trauma and exploitation.
For government and policy makers to really listen to the community and be inclusive of ALL.
Exploited persons need real exit strategies and we have the experience to help design these.
We need to stop focussing on criminalization and look to focus on workers’ safety, rights, and reducing harm.
The voices and experiences of people with lived experience are crucial because they know first-hand what works and what does not work. All of my own research has been driven by the lived experiences of those who have been impacted by sexual exploitation and/or sex trafficking.
Provide a safe space, away from urban centres, for women and girls to heal, and to raise awareness through a series of public education campaigns.
To have folks with lived experience voices and knowledge heard and used for change in the larger system/societal approaches.
We cannot solve this without collaboration of all systems, appropriate services, programs, community/public support, and understanding of the real issues.
Our experiences exiting and trying to maintain a better life makes our voices important.
We need to shift from favouritism in agencies to leadership in our own right.
Individuals with lived experience are the experts when it comes to prevention, services, programming, and the true realities of human trafficking and the sex trades. The voice of lived experience should always be at the forefront when designing services.
The people that hold the experiences and knowledge are able to identify what has worked for them or what the systemic barriers are/were. This would help to identify systemic issues and create change based off of the recommendations of those that have lived it.
Lived experience leadership shows that one can change your life and is a message of hope.
Being consulted for our expertise is critical for change.
The voices of people with lived experience are critical in order to innovate and effect the urgent changes needed to dismantle trafficking / exploitation.
Help people on the streets get off drugs and get into recovery houses.
I would like to give more victims a chance to be heard. That will be helpful for others to learn.
I believe the more we listen to survivors, the more we will understand how to implement more laws to protect current and potential victims.
The most important aspect of our voices is to alter perspectives about sexual exploitation and the sex trade to educate the next generation of men and women.
The introduction into the education system (from grades 7 to 12) as part of the sex education curriculum of mandatory curriculum related to human trafficking both in Canada and abroad on how women are recruited into the sex trade, how sexual exploitation happens, how the women’s physical and mental health are impacted, and other relevant subjects.
I am knowledgeable on matters concerning mental health, criminal and social justice, and ending demand, and have been working in the field for two decades.
It is my hope that we can influence the government on repealing the current prostitution laws.
To educate those I work with to create better practices.
Having extended care for those exiting.
I want the truth to be told about this epidemic in our society that is taking lives.
Speak truth to power.
When you survive everything and anything to defeat you, you have something valuable to share.
We have the capacity to heal and we need to reconnect with the land. That is important.
We are valuble leaders with our lived experience.
We would like to be consulted when policies are developed, as we bring the human perspective.
To open communication and take down barriers. Allowing people to unite to help our sisters and brothers. Make our stories heard and understood.
To make better strategies and policies more effective. To better acknowledge and understand barriers. To make resources available at all stages of exiting.
I envision lived experience leadership informing change within governments and policy makers in a way that is deeply respectful to survivors and their truths.
I would like to see the public and communities everywhere create real change in their communities and in their workplaces so as to get involved and help spread the word about human sex trafficking.
The face of sex trafficking is constantly evolving. Survivors of sex trafficking have the most current information on the issue, relationships with those still out there, are passionate about addressing the barriers to accessing meaningful and effective supports, and understand firsthand the ongoing nature of recovery and its complexities.
An online peer support group that supports the ongoing recovery of exited survivors on the front lines, builds the leadership capacity of those who are exiting, and offers a path to resources for those who are still being actively exploited and trafficked.
Since 1986, I have worked training others to do harm reduction, started outreach, and created a drop-in place.
We have to address poverty.
I would like to see myths dispelled about the notion of “choice”; how our lives as Indigenous people who live within a structure of dominance are adversely affected by this foreign system, and how this system lends itself to the sexual exploitation and murder of Indigenous women. The systems of colonialism and neo-colonialism are participants in supporting sex trafficking.
In alignment with recommendation 40 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action, “We call upon all levels of government, in collaboration with Aboriginal people, to create adequately funded and accessible Aboriginal-specific victim programs and services with appropriate evaluation mechanisms”.
The experience we bring helps create the bridge between the two worlds.
Speaking out and advocating to create awareness.
I firmly believe that lived experience leaders can effectively alter public and targeted perceptions about sexual exploitation, the sex trade, and a number of other topics that often intersect with these (i.e. child welfare).
To be quite honest, I believe that (so long as those with lived experience are well supported through the entire process and afterward) lived experience leaders are quite possibly the most effectively equipped to create direct change (for government, policy makers, front-line workers, and the general public).
Speaking to generational trauma and the weight of breaking cycles of trauma across one’s life span – who did they receive support from, what wasn’t available, if employed – and the lack of employee benefits in front-line work.
Host a conference each year and release a grade report on how governments and policy makers are doing on their promises and actions.
You cannot fully understand exploitation without experiencing it. Without knowledge, you cannot create the solutions.
Holding men accountable for their actions and educating them on the realities of exploitation.
Because we survived, we have the tools and the knowledge to pass down to generations
Provincial Healing Centres across Canada teaching life skills and cultural teachings.