In the words of Jamie Goulet, “There’s a different way forward”. Lived experience leaders know what needs to change.
At the heart of what needs to be done is a new model premised on unity, healing, the sacredness of Woman, the common good of all of our relations, multi-level government collaboration, and decision-making power held by experiential voices.
In this final section of this project, we unpack what we mean by transformational change and the recentring of experiential voices. We also share targeted calls to action and specific next steps for us to take individually and collectively to end sexual exploitation and sex trafficking in our local and global communities.
It’s time for a paradigm shift in the structures, processes, ways of being, and ways of doing in counter sex trafficking and counter sexual exploitation work.
At the heart of this transformational change are the following: a resurgence of matrilineal and matriarchal systems of governance, a multi-pronged approach, big picture thinking, policy change, legal reform, and a continuum of care that includes multi-disciplinary team interventions focused on relationship building for all stages of change, shapes, and sizes of people who have experienced sexual exploitation and sex trafficking.
In the words of lived experience leader Erik Gray, “relationship gets you into human trafficking and relationship can also get you out of human trafficking. And that intervention is the presence of hope.”
The contributors to this project explained that well-intentioned counter-sexual exploitation and counter sex trafficking organizations, advocates, and front-line service providers have often done more harm than good.
Even worse, many experiential voices have been tokenized, have not been paid for their services, have experienced systemic racism, discrimination, heterosexism, and oppression, or been flat out disrespected and mistreated by organizations seeking to misuse their lived experiences to garner support for their own personal agendas and initiatives.* In many cases, this has felt akin to being re-exploited.
*We stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and those who demand justice, equality, and historical education for People of Colour, particularly our Indigenous and Black communities.
Mainstream research has also undermined the value of experiential voices in general, and those of Indigenous, Black, and People of Colour in particular, by making the erroneous assumption that they are “undertheorized”. As Elizabeth Archuleta points out with respect to Indigenous women, “Indigenous women and feminist issues have not been undertheorized in our own communities; we have always theorized our lives”. 15
15. On June 6, 2012, Canada’s launched its first National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking (NAP-CHT). NAP-CHT built upon existing responses to address human trafficking and followed the “4Ps” approach – prevention, protection, prosecution, and partnerships. See Government of Canada, “National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking” 2012, available at https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/rsrcs/pblctns/ntnl-ctn-pln-cmbt/ntnl-ctn-pln-cmbt-eng.pdf.
Indeed, as lived experience leaders, we absolutely theorize, produce knowledge, and use language to think critically about our lives. However, like “Indigenous women [we] do not rely solely on Western tools [and] worldviews”.16 Archuleta’s research and that of other academics reveals that consulting those with lived experience is “theory in the flesh” and fundamentally important.
16. Out from the Shadows (1998) Voices from the Shadows. National Summary: Canadian Children and Youth Speak Out about Their Lives as Street Sex Trade Workers. Available from the School of Child and Youth Care, University of Victoria, Victoria, B.C., https://childhub.org/en/system/tdf/library/attachments/sexualexploitation_1007.pdf?file=1&type=node&id=18013).
Recentring experiential voices requires a fundamental shift away from the harmful practices that have contributed to systemic inequality and victim blaming. At its core, it entails taking stock of what isn’t working, making changes to truly work alongside of experiential voices, and stepping aside to let us effect change, innovate, inform, and lead the way forward.
More specifically, this involves:
- pivoting away from past ways of doing things;
- hiring lived experience leaders;
- paying us fairly for our knowledge and expertise;
- acknowledging our contributions;
- giving us decision-making power;
- creating resources that are needed; and
- helping guide those who are currently being sexually exploited or sex trafficked to the resources that are available, including mentors and peers that can provide ongoing support.
As Elder Billie Schibler emphasizes, “It has to be the people who are experiential and their voices need to be heard with sincerity – not lip service.”
We implore each of you to consider how you can take concrete action to move the dial to end sex trafficking and sexual exploitation. In the words of Elder Charlotte Nolin, “We can’t sit back and let it continue.”
Calls to action include but are not limited to:
- having a stronger voice with our governments;
- calling for sincere reconciliation via tangible action from people in positions of influence;
- contributing to and investing in our communities;
- creating programs for gender diverse persons;
- breaking down silos and working outside of our respective mandates;
- training more counsellors;
- taking steps to end toxic masculinity;
- dismantling patriarchy; and
- putting an end to sensational journalism that contributes to the hyper focus on the past trauma lived experience leaders have overcome rather than their resilience, accomplishments, and successes.
Most importantly, we call for a new strategic model of change to be developed by and for lived experience leaders.
Lived experience leaders across Canada have numerous next steps in mind. As Jeri Moomaw proclaims, central to each of these actions is the slogan “Nothing About Us Without Us!”
These next steps include:
- creating a National Council of Lived Experienced Leaders on Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking;
- organizing strategic actions locally and nationally;
- implementing strength-based approaches;
- focusing on protective factors;
- determining how to best disseminate information to target audiences;
- decolonizing existing frameworks so that all of our relations know they are loved and have value as sacred beings;
- developing early education materials and experiential-led school presentations to break the negative cycles that fuel sexual exploitation and sex trafficking;
- including men in our solutions;
- launching a national campaign to raise awareness about the reality that sexual exploitation and sex trafficking are alive and well across Canada;
- and empowering experiential leaders by ensuring they have influence and decision-making power at important local, provincial, and national tables.
In the words of Elder Belinda Vandenbroeck, “We are the Buffalo soldiers here, the warriors. […] They’re the caretakers. They’re the caregivers. They’re the front runners. So you’re a part of history here. And my message will always be the same: You have to know who you are. You have to know where you came from. You have to know your history. You have to know that you are loved.”