Monthly Archives: December 2016
Earlier this year, I found a story about a home improvement retailer who hired a service dog user with a brain injury. This is terrific! This is corporate responsibility. This is true representation of the broader community which this retailer serves. This is hiring people with unique skills and talents to fill a role that a company sees as valuable. I took to Facebook and thanked whoever hired this man for giving him a position that he clearly desired, wishing more hiring managers and companies did the same.
I’m on the job hunt, too, and it got me to thinking. Did this company hire this man – will a company hire me? – only because it is the law to do so? Will they do so because it is the socially conscious “in thing” to do so? Or will they hire people with disabilities because they realize that we’re a huge untapped market for them? Disability not only touches those living with blindness, who are deaf, who use wheelchairs, and/or who have brain injuries (sometimes in combination), but those with invisible disabilities as well. This doesn’t even address our friends, families, and others who care about us. A Canadian organization recently launched the We Belong App. The app allows consumers to search by location for companies and organizations that hire inclusively (primarily people with developmental disabilities), giving them the opportunity to show financially that it pays to do so.
Meaningful employment is something that’s very important to me. I want to be hired at a position with a company that views me as an asset, not a liability. Unfortunately, the latter appears to be the prevailing thinking among people who’ve met me for interviews. I don’t make constant eye contact, I imply that it’s important to use words to communicate… and yet I have years of experience behind me, so that should count for something. Do I want a job? You bet your last dollar. But I want a job with a company or organization that views me as the asset that I am, with unique insights, skills, and talents to bring to the table. Things may have to be done differently, but change is a part of life; many accommodations for people with disabilities end up benefiting entire workplaces, and it’s not often realized until after the disabled employee moves on to other opportunities (personal or professional).
For those who don’t hire us because of your preconceived notions of our capabilities – not because you truly had more qualified applicants – please know that you’ve broken human rights legislation. The law is only one piece in a mosaic that fits together to include people with disabilities in society, in the classroom, in the workplace. It takes inclusive thinkers – who are unfortunately not frequently in HR – to understand that we’re more than the eyes or ears or hands or legs or brain that doesn’t work as expected. If you want to be progressive, inclusive, and innovative, hire people with unique skills, talents and insights who just happen to be disabled. Your business will benefit as much if not more than the employee you hire, because we do have friends and families and others who care about us… and they reward truly inclusive and empowering workplaces with their positive words to their friends and families and coworkers… and their consumer dollars. The bottom dollar is a motivator for many; I’d like to use some of mine to support employers who don’t discriminate. but that can only happen once pretty words on a page start becoming action, once HR managers, CEOs, and office managers view people with disabilities as unique resources and assets to business and commerce.
Oh, and if you are one of those progressive, inclusive, innovative HR managers, CEOs, or office managers, drop me a line; I’d be happy to meet you.
Everyone experiences varying levels of stress, but many of us don’t understand stress or know how to deal with it effectively. This is made more challenging by the individualized nature of stress and how we cope with it. There is no universal, one-size-fits-all strategy, so we must find our own path to managing stressful situations. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to begin this journey. Here are just a few.
Stress is constantly devalued. With headlines screaming about how to eliminate and fight stress, a very important point is being overlooked: there’s such a thing as good stress, and it’s very healthy. Positive stress is characterized by its short-term nature and ability to motivate you. Good stress is what helps you keep your energy levels high while writing an exam. It helps you evade dangerous situations, which is the original purpose of our fight-or-flight response. It helps you sharpen your focus and conquer deadlines without collapsing. In short, it helps you tackle even the most difficult tasks without burning out or giving up.
Bad stress, by contrast, is chronic, acute, and harmful to your overall health. Unlike positive stress, it contributes to burnout and even physical ailments like depression, cancer, heart conditions, and the natural process of aging. Once you learn to distinguish between good and bad stress, you can convert chronic, destructive stress to healthy, positive stress.
2. Change your perception
As we’ve covered already, stress does not necessarily deserve its bad reputation. So, it’s important to understand that your reactions to and perception of stress are more powerful than the feeling itself. Luckily, your brain is equipped to adapt over time, so if you practice active alteration of your thought processes, you can begin to view stress as a force to be mastered rather than an enemy to be avoided.
Remember, too, that stress is by no means inevitable. Everyone reacts differently to the same situations, which proves that we are not programmed to respond the way we do to things that frighten and stress us out. There is freedom in working to change your instinctive tendencies. When you do, you’ll begin to notice a reduction in anxiety and better control of your emotions.
Let’s face it: we all know the essential components of good health, but rarely honour them. It’s no secret that regular exercise, restful sleep, and a nutritious diet all contribute to a healthier lifestyle, but these have other benefits, too.
Adopting a healthy lifestyle has been shown to reduce negative stress and enhance the benefits of positive stress. Energy levels rise, motivation increases, and general well-being is within reach. If you do more than the bare minimum when caring for yourself, you’ll spot the difference almost immediately.
Effective planning of your day-to-day life is invaluable, not just for productivity, but also for a more relaxed, manageable life. When you don’t schedule time in an efficient way, you will suffer for it. It’s easy, really. One of the best methods you can use is to schedule leisure or relaxation time for yourself each day. You don’t have to do this for long if your timetable doesn’t permit—just take fifteen minutes or so each day to do something you love. Choose activities that require low energy, and put aside your worries for that short time. Unstructured time doesn’t have to be wasted time.
Of course, you can always employ quicker coping mechanisms throughout the day. Take a moment to do some breathing exercises. Plan your day in advance so you don’t need to worry about deadlines. Balance work-related time with family and social time. No matter how crowded your schedule becomes, it’s imperative that you set aside time for fun and social interaction.
Coping with stress may seem like a long, daunting process, but when you implement concrete, practical solutions, you’ll notice equally concrete results. Stress is not your enemy. Learn to make peace with and master it, and it becomes an advantage, not a setback.
With 2016 drawing to a close, we hosted our Christmas luncheon, an annual event that acknowledges our clients. Their hard work, dedication, and persistence are the essence of DECSA’s spirit, and for that, we’re always grateful.
Wishing to serve our clients some holiday spirit, we prepared a turkey feast with all the trimmings, and gathered them together in the Community Hub for an open mic and sing-along. For many of our clients, a holiday meal is simply out of reach. We wanted to ensure that all of our clients could enjoy our bounty with us.
Sharing a meal with our clients gave us the opportunity to reflect on their journeys thus far, and what they plan to achieve in 2017. This day was for reflection, gratitude, and celebration: our clients show incredible courage in the face of overwhelming challenges, and while there is always more work to do, we think it is important to be still for a moment and appreciate what we’ve all accomplished this year.
Musically-inclined staff and clients performed special selections for everyone, including stirring Aboriginal songs. To accompany the stories and laughter, we drew names for three food hampers, each going to one of our deserving clients. Everyone joined in for a rousing chorus of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” to cap off the afternoon.
DECSA has many people to thank for getting this event off the ground. We owe Edmonton’s Food Bank many thanks, as they generously provided all the food for the luncheon. Thank you to those who donated via the GoFundMe page; your support means so much to us. We’re also grateful to the volunteers who helped us prepare such a large-scale meal in such a short time.
Finally, we thank our clients for joining us. They are our purpose and our inspiration. We look forward to standing alongside them in 2017, as they continue their journey toward a bright, successful future.
It may be difficult to fathom how prostitution could ever be considered glamourous, but in recent years, a combination of popular media and prominent sex workers has begun to change the face of prostitution. High-class call girls like Samantha X, who were fortunate enough to work for agencies that vetted clients, speak openly about the empowering nature of their work. Belle De Jour, later revealed to be a PHD student trying to make easy money, published a blog and book that painted a glossy, alluring portrait of prostitution as a get-rich quick strategy with an edgy side.
Meanwhile, the media has capitalized on the image of prostitution as a profession for sexually powerful people who love their work and, of course, make plenty of money doing it. From the fictionalized version of Belle de Jour in Secret Diary of a London Call Girl, to the student-turned-escort from The Girlfriend Experience, to the sweet-faced protagonist of Pretty Woman, the media offers palatable, seductive depictions of the world’s oldest profession, selling empowerment, agency, and a healthy side of glamour.
DECSA’s Kathy Brown, manager of our Transitions program, tells a different story. Having
worked closely with women in the sex trade, she’s witnessed the ugly, undignified, and exploitive side of prostitution—the one both media and activists don’t necessarily discuss. Using her outreach experience among sex trade workers as a guide, she joined DECSA to make a difference to victims of sexual exploitation.
Here, she deconstructs the popular view, giving us a glimpse of the real face of prostitution.
Q: What is your background?
A: My previous job was the director of the Women’s Outreach of the Salvation Army Crossroads Church in downtown Edmonton. For the past three years, I was the volunteer team lead for the Women’s Outreach Van, which travelled through the hotspots for the sex trade in downtown Edmonton on Monday nights. A team of four or five women went out from 9 pm to 2 am to provide bag lunches, clothing and community to the homeless, addicted and/or sexually exploited on the streets.
Q: The media often presents sex workers as either drug-addled victims or icons of feminine power. Is either of those close to the truth?
A: Neither of those is a very apt description of the people I have met in the sex trade. For the most part, I have met workers who are simply doing what they have to do to get by while living in a very expensive area of the world. Just like everyone else, they have dreams and aspirations that have not come to fruition. The family and/or community of their childhood most often was broken, causing trauma that often goes unattended and unhealed. There is a deep desire for community and belonging that is often perceived to be a chasm too large to attempt to cross. They are not to be pitied or glamourized. Their resiliency, however, is admirable.
Q: What kind of women did you meet?
A: Our target population was sexually exploited women and we would see anywhere from 10 to 50 women in a night. The majority were Aboriginal and the age range was 15 to 65 years of age. Most did not have stable housing and were clearly socioeconomically disadvantaged, since they were hungry and needed clothes. Typically, women on the streets suffer with drug addiction as well.
Q: What led them to the sex trade?
A: In terms of women on the streets, we found that a common story was that most if not every one of them were sexually abused as children by someone in their immediate or extended family. Then usually by the age of 13, an older man would approach her, tell her how much he loved her, and ask if she would come with him. He might even promise they would get married. The girl would leave with the man and begin living with him. He would introduce her to drugs and she would get addicted. Then, the man would either claim he did not have enough money for rent and ask the girl to “work” to earn the necessary money, or he would tell the girl she owed him money for rent and drugs and threaten her with harm if she did not go “work”.
Q: The media and pro-prostitution activists talk a lot about choice. Do you think sex work can ever be a real, informed choice?
A: This is difficult to answer as there are many different opinions, even among those who work in the sex trade. One of the most impactful events I have been involved in was at City Council when they were deciding whether or not to lift the moratorium on body rub parlours earlier this year. I was there to tell the story of one body rub parlour worker who was working minimally in the parlour to earn enough money to get diapers and formula. I brought her diapers and formula the following week, and she exited the business. She entered school to train to be an aide in the health care field.
At the same City council meeting, there was a body rub parlour owner who spoke as well. This owner claimed that those working in the parlours made an informed choice, but she said that, of course, no one wants to work in the sex trade.
Q: So, what proportion of the women you’ve worked with want to exit the sex trade?
Q: If they want to leave so badly, why do they stay?
A: When I think of the young woman in the story above, and others that I know, I believe that most do not have marketable skills and are unable to find alternative employment. I also believe that many simply don’t know how to go about getting into mainstream employment and education. There is often a great deal of healing that needs to happen in the person’s life, along with life skills, understanding the trauma that they have often been subject to, and assistance in becoming employment/education ready. The employment climate in Edmonton is dismal right now and we do not have sufficient affordable housing and transportation, in particular, to inspire this population of women to make a choice to leave their current work.
Q: Would you say that the public view of the sex trade is inaccurate?
A: When I was recruiting volunteers to minister on the street, the most common misconception they had was that women working in the sex trade would be glamourous like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. They were quite surprised when women would sit and talk and be dressed just like most of the volunteers were dressed. I remember the first time one of my friends came out with me – she thought there would be lots of drama and fighting among the women. She ended up in tears most of the night as she realized how different the reality was from her misconceptions.
I would like the public to know that most if not all sex workers arrived at this point not through a series of choices, but through a series of traumas.
DECSA’s Transitions program, which has been running for over fifteen years, aims to bridge the gap between sex work and conventional employment. The program helps clients learn life and employment skills so that they can begin to rebuild their lives, adopt healthier lifestyles, and find employment that will lift them out of poverty. Meanwhile, we help our clients work through trauma, understand their worth, and free themselves from sexual exploitation.
If you or someone you know needs assistance exiting the sex trade, contact us. We are here to help.
Throughout the year, our staff and clients are focused on hard-won progress. Breaking down barriers is never easy, and overcoming trauma and other challenges is tiring. So, when the holiday season approaches, we like to take time for reflection, appreciation, and joy.
On December 14, we’ll be hosting a Christmas luncheon for anyone who is or has been a client in the past year. By preparing and serving a holiday feast for our clients, we remind them that we acknowledge, admire, and respect their efforts and progress. DECSA would not be the same without them, and we owe them our gratitude. This is just one way we can demonstrate how much our clients mean to us, and also allows us to sit down and simply enjoy fun, unstructured time with them outside the daily routine.
All the food for our luncheon is generously provided by Edmonton’s Food Bank, and it will be prepared and served by our staff. Still, we need help to obtain catering supplies, such as chafing (heating) dishes, serving utensils etc. Without these, the event cannot take place, so we’re reaching out to you—supporters, family, friends, neighbours, partners—to help us ensure our clients can enjoy a delicious holiday meal. For many of our clients, who live in low-income circumstances, this turkey dinner may be the only gift they are given this year. Help us make their holidays a little brighter.
If you’re interested in donating, please visit our campaign’s page, where you can see how much we’ve raised so far and contribute your own gift toward our goal. Remember that even if you can’t give at this time, we will still benefit from a share or two. Please share our campaign on your social media page, and tell all your friends!
We thank you for your generosity. We know you’ll help us serve some holiday spirit for those who need it most this season.