As lived experience leaders, we know what is working to curtail sexual exploitation and sex trafficking. We have been working on the front-lines for decades. As we point out in this section, it’s essential to find like-minded people with the same values, teachings, heart, and passion for the sacredness of all of our relations. From there, working together, hiring staff with lived experience, and coming from Spirit are key.
For decades, lived experience leaders have tirelessly overseen strategic advocacy initiatives to effect and influence change in our local and global communities. Indeed, many provincial strategies and regional coalitions that counter sexual exploitation and sex trafficking across the country owe their existence to longstanding advocacy work by persons with lived experience of sexual exploitation and sex trafficking who have spoken truth to power.
While our campaigns, political actions, lobbying tactics, and advocacy projects vary in relation to our diverse experiences, approaches, and perspectives, the common thread that unites them all is that sexual exploitation and sex trafficking are symptoms of a deeper problem – the erosion of human rights.
Indeed, on a daily basis, lived experience leaders across our country are urgently advocating for the rights of those who are experiencing these egregious rights violations. It’s critical that we collectively speak up and act now to change the underlying conditions and root causes of sexual exploitation and sex trafficking.
This means coming together and advocating for changes at the micro, macro, systemic, and transformational levels.
Be it safety planning, legal reform, outreach, harm reduction, coalition building, sitting on Boards of Directors, system disruption, policy change, LGBTQ2S+ inclusion, calling for long-term mental health supports and after care, or another theme, three things are key to being successful: (1) love and support; (2) no blame or shame; and (3) sustainable funding.
As Trisha Baptie explains, “people need to realize that it’s gonna cost money. Vulnerable and marginalized people cost society money all the time, whether it’s you having to use emergency rooms, doctors, whether it’s shelters. How we spend that money can be changed to actually empower these people and to give them a shot at a real life.”
Ending the Demand
Lived experience leaders and Elders from across Canada emphasize how critically important it is to prevent sex trafficking and sexual exploitation by focusing on ending the demand for buying and selling sex with people who are sexually exploited.
As Trisha Baptie notes, “without the demand […] there wouldn’t be women who are being exploited.” We must develop strategies that hold those who perpetrate these egregious human rights violations accountable.
In particular, this includes educating boys and men about consent from a young age, modeling respect for the sacredness of women and girls, partnering with men, minimizing the profitability of sex trafficking, and ensuring that those who exploit and purchase sex with exploited persons are truly held accountable.
To this end, multiple experiential-led initiatives are needed, including improved prevention, prosecution, protection, and partnership strategies.13 We can learn from programs and projects that are working well in other countries, but there is no quick cut and paste solution for Canada. Any and all initiatives to end demand and hold men accountable for sexually exploiting women must be culturally sensitive, led by lived experience leaders, and take into account the Turtle Island context.
As Elder Laurie Mackenzie teaches, “It’s gonna take all of us working together.”
Key to effecting change is focusing on people first. This means coming together across sectors and mandates, ensuring lived experience leaders have peer support and are in the driver’s seat overseeing peer-run programs.
Lived experience leader Kim Trossel further explains, “It’s so important that the community works together, bridging the gaps that are in existence, and not duplicating services. We need to work in unity. We need to work from a non-judgemental, harm reduction, trauma-informed, client-focused approach.”
To be sure, language matters. It’s important to use the terms that people who experience sexual exploitation and sex trafficking prefer and identify with.
For example, in 1998 youth with lived experiences of sexual exploitation from across Canada met at the “Out from the Shadows” international summit in British Columbia. They collectively called for a change in language from “child prostitutes” to “sexually exploited youth”. The term “sexually exploited youth” continues to be used today and is viewed as a best practice.14
As lived experience leader Holley Kroonen explains, “I personally wouldn’t listen to anyone that didn’t have experience because they didn’t speak my language. And if you didn’t speak my language, how was I supposed to understand you?”
Appropriate terminology varies from person to person based on their lived experience, including their worldview and philosophy, which can change over time. As such, out of respect, rather than guessing, using your own language, or imposing your own philosophy with respect to language, it’s always best to humbly ask persons who have experienced sexual exploitation and sex trafficking how they identify. Then, use their accurate terminology. Examples of terms shared by lived experience leaders who contributed to this project include “experiential voice”, “survivor”, “person with lived experience”, and “sex trade worker”.
Elder Charlotte Nolin reminds us of the Mohican teaching, “You are no less, no greater than anyone else.”
We are all responsible for ending sexual exploitation and sex trafficking. It’s time to take collective action and responsibility. This means all nations coming together, sharing responsibility and focusing on what each of us can do.
To this end, Cassandra Diamond points out that hub models, structure, and evidence-informed data work well: “we definitely have to organize and we have to create structure because that’s how we can grow. That’s how we can apply down force at all levels […] We can’t play whack a mole anymore. We have to be able to have a consistent down force. And all sectors need to produce data that can be used to better understand, inform, but most, most importantly, provide voices for those who are coming up behind us.”
Paving a New Way Forward
It’s time to pave a new way forward centred on the wisdom, insights, and expertise of persons with lived experiences of sexual exploitation and sex trafficking.
Lived experience leader Joanna Gladue emphasizes, “lateral violence needs to stop”. Jamie Goulet, Co-Founder of Clan Mothers Healing Village adds that “coming from Indigenous values and principles” can make all the difference.
Indeed, informed by Indigenous matrilineal values, each of us can be a spokesperson within our sphere of influence, take action to see improved inclusion and diversity, focus on trust and relationship-building, and courageously think outside of the box to move systems and sectors from within.