This guest blog post was written by Mikhaela Gray-Beerman, an anti-trafficking advocate, researcher, and educator.
Author’s Note: I acknowledge that I am not writing this article from the perspective of an individual with lived experience. I recognize the importance of uplifting the voices of those impacted by the sex industry, and I believe that their views are central to our understanding of these issues. We must listen to their stories, insights, and knowledge. I am writing this article as an advocate and ally for those who have experienced or are currently experiencing exploitation in the sex industry.
*Pseudonyms are used in this blogpost.
If you hadn’t completed high school, what would your life look like today? Would you have your current job? Would you own the things that are in your possession? Would you have the security and freedom you enjoy?
Suppose your resume was blank, you didn’t have any former volunteer or employment history, and you did not have anyone to cite as a reference. What steps would you take to earn an income today? Do you think it would even be possible?
Suppose you did not have any family, friends, or supportive networks. How would you have managed through the loss of a loved one or a break-up? How would you have navigated the pandemic, the arrival of a new baby, marital challenges, or any other life event that has been difficult for you?
If the sex industry had impacted your life since you were a teenager where you had been sexually, verbally, emotionally, and physically abused, developed PTSD, and experienced unimaginable horrors, what steps would you take to heal and move forward?
If you are reading these questions and thinking: “This is my story; these things are true of me. I did not complete high school, and I have no employment history. I do not have any family, friends, or support. The sex industry has impacted me..” I hope you know that organizations like Defend Dignity exist to advocate for you and find ways to support you. We hope that you will reach out to us. You can also submit an application for funding to the Survivor Support Fund which accepts applications every April and October.
“Organizations like Defend Dignity are what give individuals like myself the opportunity to achieve the things they once dreamed of.” – Sophia
These are some of the many potential barriers that people impacted by the sex industry face. When someone chooses to exit, there is often hurdle after hurdle that they have to overcome. Some women have children they need to support and have no means of income. Others are faced with homelessness if they exit the sex industry. The women I have met and with whom I am journeying are the most courageous and resilient people I have ever known.
I recently undertook a study where I reviewed and analyzed the experiences of 53 individuals impacted by the sex industry in Canada. Exiting the sex industry is incredibly challenging, and people face many barriers to leaving. It can often take multiple attempts for someone to be able to leave the industry entirely. People face barriers that create a cycle of entering, exiting, and re-entering the sex industry. Funding opportunities like the Survivor Support Fund are one of the ways that individuals can overcome the challenges they face in leaving the industry behind. Other supports that are needed to help people include:
- access to substance use recovery programs
- mental health supports
- trauma-informed services
- financial support, including anti-poverty, financial management and debt reduction programs, and scholarships and bursaries.
One of my favourite parts of the study was reading about each individual’s future dreams and aspirations. Emilia shared: ‘My goal is to leave sex work and work towards something I would be happier doing.’ Some of their dreams include: supporting their children, rebuilding relationships with their children, furthering education, maintaining sobriety, volunteerism, finding employment outside of the sex industry, homeownership, and entrepreneurship. Some individuals dreamed of becoming fashion designers, published authors, social workers, mental health and addiction counselors, nurse practitioners, business owners, managers, and more. “…Almost half of the people in the study indicated that they are currently enrolled in higher education or dream of obtaining a degree or certification in their desired field. Many shared their desire to heal and help others who have gone through similar experiences…” (Gray-Beerman, in press, p.20).
Mia shared: “I also deeply cared that this devastating pain was happening to others, and the lived experience of this kind of trauma birthed in what I wanted for all women who experienced this—a choice of healing, resources, and supports. To help validate another’s story, feelings, and experience and that healing is possible, to offer my own walk as an example of I understand, and you are not alone.”
I am so grateful that the Survivor Support Fund at Defend Dignity exists! This fund is the ONLY one in Canada where financial support is available to anyone impacted by the sex industry (regardless of whether they identify as trafficked, escorting, online exploitation, engaging in survival sex, etc.). More funding opportunities like this are desperately needed.
Part of our country’s strategy to end sexual exploitation must focus on the support needed to exit the sex industry. Leaving the sex industry is a journey. We need to advocate for resources that meet individuals’ diverse and complex needs in our communities.
What role can you play to help people break the cycle of entering, exiting, and re-entering the sex industry in Canada?
- Consider donating to funding opportunities, like the Survivor Support Fund, and financially support survivor-led initiatives
- Write to your MP to advocate for funding towards exit services in Canada
- Write to your MPP to advocate for substance use, mental health, and trauma-informed programs in your community
Cotter, A. (2020). Trafficking in persons in Canada, 2018. Statistics Canada. https://www150. statcan. gc. ca, (1).
Gray-Beerman, M. (in press). Canadians Reflect on the Harm of the Sex Industry and Why They Chose to Get Out: Motherhood and Pursuing Dreams.
 Recent statistics indicate that 28% of human trafficking incidents involve children under the age of 18 (Cotter, 2020)