Winnipeg trio sheds light on supporting victims of sexual exploitation Raised by a single mother who struggled with drug and alcohol addictions, Carrie Blaydon remembers being left home alone at just six years of age while her mom went out drinking.
Despite learning how to take care of herself at a young age, she started getting into trouble. At age 11 she began doing drugs. By age 14, crack cocaine was her drug of choice.
“Not only was I physically, mentally, (and) spiritually abused as a youth, I was sexually abused many times,” recalled Blaydon. “I remember feeling alone a lot, abandoned, scared, worthless and unloved.”
Vulnerable and searching for companionship, she began tagging along on “dates” with the girls she hung out with. The men would offer the girls extra money if they could touch Blaydon as well.
This was her first experience with sexual exploitation, but it wasn’t her last. A cycle of abuse, exploitation, drugs and domestic violence followed — a reality for far too many children and youth in her home province of Manitoba.
Blaydon travelled from Winnipeg to share her story at the Provincial Association of Transition Houses and Services (PATHS) 2018 conference Tuesday morning in Regina.
A standing ovation followed her story, in which she explained how she found the strength and courage to break the cycle, embrace her Indigenous culture and regain custody of the four children she’d lost to child and family services.
She now works as a youth mentor at the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre in Winnipeg, an Indigenous strength and value-based family resource centre that delivers community-based programs and services.
“It’s important to teach other people how to support people that are sexually exploited,” said Priscilla Robert, site manager for the centre’s Honouring the Spirit of Our Little Sisters program. “It’s an epidemic right now and the numbers are just increasing daily.”
Robert, Blaydon and Melissa Stone, a sexually exploited youth outreach facilitator at the centre, were invited by PATHS to share how they support victims of sexual exploitation and human trafficking and engage in outreach programs in the community to try and prevent it.
While the stories shared during the presentation may be those of our neighbours, they are not unique to Manitoba.
“Indigenous girls are really over-represented and experience the highest rates of vulnerability and exploitation,” said Crystal Giesbrecht, director of research and communications for PATHS. “We definitely have the same issues here.”
With PATHS member agencies — domestic violence shelters and services — community partners, policymakers, police, researchers, students and activists in the room, Giesbrecht hopes the knowledge and insight shared by the trio can inform groups hoping to combat sexual exploitation and human trafficking in Saskatchewan.
The presentation defined sexual exploitation and human trafficking, explained how children and youth are recruited, lured and groomed by perpetrators and talked about the importance of language when trying to connect with and support victims.
“We don’t call them clients, we don’t call them sex trade workers. We don’t call them prostitutes because that’s degrading to women,” said Stone. “We want to empower them.”
Both Robert and Blaydon work with the Honouring the Spirit of Our Little Sisters program, which provides long-term safe housing for young women and transgender youth between 13 and 17 years of age.
Blaydon said the key to supporting children and youth who have experienced trauma is to meet them where they’re at instead of trying to force them into things they aren’t ready for.
“It’s hard for a lot of people to work with children that have experienced a lot of trauma,” she said. “I think a lot of people think that they’re just acting out in the behaviours without understanding that these children need to be healed.”
Giesbrecht is optimistic that the best practices shared by Blaydon, Stone and Robert on behalf of the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre is a great learning opportunity for Saskatchewan.
“I think that’s something that will really help us to combat some of our high rates of violence in the province,” said Giesbrecht.
The two-day conference wrapped up on Tuesday afternoon and also addressed issues such as domestic violence, rural outreach, removing barriers to service and more.