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Hope Found: A way out of the sex trade

By Fiona Tapp on June 7, 2016

May marked the end of sexual assault prevention month, a time to reflect on the troubling statistics of sexual violence and raise awareness for victim services.

But what exactly constitutes a sexual assault? Ontario’s #ItsNeverOkay action plan to stop sexual violence and harassment, describes sexual violence as:

Any sexual act or attempt to obtain a sexual act by violence or force. This includes:

  • unwanted sexual comments or advances
  • selling or attempting to sell someone for sex
  • acts of violence directed against an individual because of their sexuality, regardless of the relationship to the victim

Sexual violence affects 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men, and contrary to societal myth, false reporting is not a significant issue and occurs at the same rate as false reporting for any other crime.

However, less than 10% of sexual assaults are reported to the police. This low level of reporting is due to many factors. Victims sometimes feel ashamed and mistakenly believe they are to blame for the assault, they may fear reprisal violence if they involve the police, or are in a relationship with the perpetrator and do not wish to get them into trouble. Perhaps they feel that the judicial system would re-victimize them or do not want others to know about the incident. Some victims are so traumatized by the event that they simply deny it took place or are manipulated by their abuser, to believe it is part of a normal loving relationship.

Having a personal relationship with your attacker makes it much less likely that a report will be made with the authorities, a growing group of criminals are using this fact to their advantage, as domestic sex trafficking becomes one of the fastest growing crimes in Ontario.

When many of us think of sexual trafficking, we imagine women and children kidnapped abroad and brought over to the west to be used as sex slaves. And although this type of abhorrent practice is prevalent, another type of sexual exploitation is taking place a little closer to home and is a growing problem, particularly in Eastern Ontario.

Domestic sex trafficking is where at risk Canadian youth are targeted by predators, who pose as their boyfriends or confidantes, gaining their trust, promising them a bright future and plying them with gifts and tokens of love. Then through a series of grooming and manipulation tactics, they convince and coerce them into the sex trade. Sometimes the person manipulating a vulnerable youth is a family member or the practice can be part of a gang initiation. Many victims don’t understand that they have been trafficked and believe they are in a relationship with their pimp. Breaking this cycle of abuse and dependency is incredibly difficult.

Those persons forced into organized sex trafficking may need practical supports to leave the sex trade, to begin to build a life outside of sexual exploitation. These services could include:

  • Basic needs- such as food, shelter and clothing
  • Education and employment preparation
  • Access to therapy and counselling
  • Detox and additions supports
  • Medical and dental care
  • Victim services and legal supports

A new initiative offered through Voice Found seeks to offer these services and more. The Hope Found Project aims to help persons in Eastern Ontario who have been sexually exploited, providing opportunities for those exiting the sex trade to thrive in their new lives.

A distinction must be made here between the victimized persons Hope Found helps and those who voluntarily participate in sex work and find value in their profession.

Hope Found’s team are sensitive to the unique needs of each person and work alongside them to develop a pathway to a successful exit.

The difference that Hope Found brings to victims is that their services are trauma informed and survivor-led, as Cynthia Bland, Founder, and CEO of Voice Found explains “This initiative is unique in the way it approaches this difficult and sensitive issue,” Bland said. “We understand the importance of empowering these survivors. There are a number of gaps in the services that currently exist, so this initiative will help to close those and make a real impact.”

Together we can support victims and put an end to sexual exploitation, to do your part:

actively challenge myths regarding sexual assault

Educate children about healthy relationships and consent

Believe a victim if they reach out to you and help them find support services such as the Hope Found project.

For more information about this important project please visit Voice Found.

Editor’s Note: In the coming weeks we will profile POWER, an advocacy group that works to fight the stigma and discrimination that sex workers face and to challenge the laws and policies that put sex workers in harm’s way.