As per the Canadian Women’s Foundation’s reports and national consultations on the sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of women and girls 2, in spite of our invaluable contributions and leadership, for decades our voices, needs, interests, concerns, and first-hand experiences as lived experience leaders have not been prioritized or respected. This is further compounded by the lateral violence and ongoing oppression that many of us experience.
The time is now for lived experience leaders to have decision making power and representation in the design of solutions.
Our knowledge, wisdom, and understanding are invaluable. Indeed, we have the answers and know the way forward when it comes to curtailing sexual exploitation and sex trafficking.
Moreover, we and our communities are often impacted most – for good or for bad – by such decisions. As such, we have a lot at stake.
Having decision-making power goes beyond consultation, meetings, or opportunities for officials to listen. Rather, lived experience-led projects are characterized by intentional and meaningful leadership and involvement of lived experience leaders at all stages.
To be clear, this means that from design to completion a group of lived experience leaders of varying perspectives and backgrounds have the power to lead and run a project, with decision-making about everything from funding, content, messaging, language, next steps, and beyond.
In doing so, it’s critical that lived experience leaders receive increased visibility so that the public has a better understanding of who we are. In the words of Erik Gray, “I did not know it was possible to be strong and to be a sex worker or a trafficked person until it was an example for me. […] We all need access to reflections of ourselves.”