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The Romeo Game: How Traffickers Build Trust

Do you know someone who has fallen prey to “the game?”
They’re difficult to spot, since victims of sex trafficking come from all backgrounds. Archetypal victims of commercial sexual exploitation can’t be identified by their race, gender, or socioeconomic status. There are no demographics that remain untouched by the sex trade. No one is too wealthy, too well-adjusted, or too savvy to be seduced by a seasoned predator. Playing the game is not relegated to places “nice” people from “good” families would never dare to explore.
As we’ve learned from painful experience here at DECSA, not every person who has been sexually exploited realizes the situation is out of their control. At first, some people go along with the game, allowing pimps (who sometimes favour sanitized titles like “escort manager”) to enchant, exploit, and even enslave them without attempting to escape. The most skilled of predators can inspire such loyalty and helplessness in survivors that nothing, not even torture or violence, can sever the bond between them.
So, you may well ask, how do pimps persuade new recruits, some of them pre-teens, to fall in love with the very people who treat them like chattel?

Stage 1: Enchantment

“That’s when I learned women. Like, you know, learned how they work, learned what they want, everything…” – Matthew Deiaco
Career pimps frequently employ the “Romeo tactic” to recruit new sex workers. Targeting victims who seem vulnerable increases their success rate; people seeking guidance, security, and love are easier to charm. This is why pimps will focus their recruiting efforts on bus stations, secluded house parties, high schools, and even group homes, staking out potential victims in seemingly safe places. Social media, in particular, is a powerful recruitment tool—a tool young people understand better than the adults caring for them. Many victims of sexual exploitation engage in what they believe to be bona fide romantic relationships, so that they are already emotionally attached to a pimp by the time an exploitive situation is first introduced. This makes the work itself, and the lack of control over their own earnings, much more palatable.
Pimps make a systematic effort to discover a potential victim’s deepest desires. One pimp compares this process to finding the magic words: sometimes it’s as simple as saying “I love you” at the right time. Are victims craving a fairy-tale romance? A warm, stable, secure relationship? A luxurious lifestyle? Do they simply want their basic needs, like food and shelter, to be met by a consistent source?
Once vulnerabilities are identified, it’s disturbingly easy for a pimp to make lavish promises tailored to each individual they pursue. Playing the role of Romeo, who appears at just the right moment, paves the way for future manipulation. To bolster the clever deception, patient pimps will wait up to a year before showing signs that the romance is anything other than innocent. By then, the victim is primed to accept violence and exploitation, potentially unable to tell the difference between love and performative infatuation.
An outsider may notice red flags early on. Pimps may seem like dashing, loving boyfriends from the victim’s perspective, but observant third parties may pick up on a demanding nature; a preoccupation with money; a tendency to isolate; an unnatural interest in underground markets. Unfortunately, many victims, especially young teenagers, are not equipped to see danger in these traits, and neither are their peers.

Stage 2: Exploitation

“[sex] is something they were going to do anyway. This way, they get paid for it.” – anonymous pimp
By the time the relationship has progressed to the exploitation stage, pimps have already built trust and integrated themselves into victims’ lives. They have lain the groundwork for exploitation by learning all about a victim’s family, friends, interests, hopes, fears, and weaknesses. Even if a victim were to balk when the idea of prostitution is raised, pimps have plenty of personalized ammunition to blackmail, bully, or beguile them into an exploitive lifestyle. Perhaps victims are swayed by threats to their personal safety or that of their families. Maybe a pimp relies on the victim’s wish to contribute equally to the relationship to convince them to engage in activities that make them uncomfortable. In some cases, victims may even feel obliged to enter the sex trade, feeling that they are helping to support the glowing, romantic future they were promised. Participation in sex work can sometimes begin with twisted consent rather than fear and intimidation.
Some sex workers are open to being exploited, at least initially, in the sense that their earnings may afford them an improved lifestyle. Pimps can be deliberately flashy about money, tempting victims with the life they’ve always wanted. By this time, the victim is emotionally and often materially dependent upon their pimp, and is only just beginning to realize that the whole relationship was a business transaction, not a genuine romantic partnership. This is also the point when many victims discover that their pimps have others they’ve reeled in with the same sinister bait, and while this betrayal may be devastating, it is not necessarily enough to break the bond.

Stage 3: Enslavement

“They get inside your head: I felt like they had a hold of me from the inside — from my mind.” – anonymous survivor
The third and final stage is the enslavement stage, where victims acknowledge the desperation of their situations, but cannot or will not escape. Fear of physical violence motivates many victims to remain compliant, but others are swayed by complete dependence upon their pimps for everything from food, to shelter, to validation. Still others stay in exploitive situations because their pimps have threatened to expose them to friends and family. Convinced their lives will be ruined forever, they continue to suffer in silence and seclusion.
With the advent of online advertising, victims of sex trafficking are even more cloistered than before. Some are confined to one hotel room, servicing parades of clients without being able to rest, eat, or use the bathroom. Treated like something a step down from human, pimps will sometimes force victims to sleep naked at the foot of their beds, chained and starved like neglected animals. They are commonly branded to identify them as the property of a specific pimp, solidifying their subhuman status. Cut off from anyone who might be concerned about them, victims have little opportunity to signal to law enforcement or anyone else who may be in a position to help. The situation is made more dangerous because law enforcement has structural blind spots and may not be as responsive to certain types of victims. Even if law enforcement gives victims an opportunity to run away, they do not always accept it due to careful conditioning.
Even victims who have managed to break free can still feel bonded to their pimps. In one memorable case, a survivor actually attended her pimp’s trial, sitting with his family either in solidarity or in an attempt to show continued loyalty.

What can we do?

Our best defence is vigilance. Do not assume anyone is part of a low-risk demographic, or you may miss important signs. Watch for a person, especially a young and vulnerable one, who has:
• become suddenly secretive, even defensive about where they’re going and whom they’re seeing.
• acquired a second cell phone for no discernible reason.
• begun using new and unfamiliar terms, like “the game,” “tricks,” or “wifey.”
• gotten new tattoos they’re not willing to explain.
• started to pull away and isolate from friends and family.
• run away from home without explanation.
New victims may not be prepared to talk to you about what they’re experiencing, especially if they have been captivated by a skilled Romeo pimp. Reach out to others who might have influence over the victim, and understand that a situation that seems horrifying to you may seem perfectly natural for them. Tread softly.
Finally, understand that it’s never too early to discuss human trafficking with children. No one is too young to be at risk, so have that conversation early, so that we can keep kids as safe and informed as possible.


Are you being sexually exploited? Are you concerned about someone you know? Contact us. We’d be happy to help.

An Employer’s Guide to Inclusive Hiring

For many job-seekers with disabilities, the proliferation of online applications is a major leap forward. Job-seekers with vision, mental health, and mobility issues frequently find remote job-searching more comfortable and accessible than pounding the pavement. There’s also the added bonus of not needing to disclose disability immediately, increasing the chances of a selection process uninhibited by an employer’s perception of disability.
All is not well in the hiring world, however. Perplexed employers proclaim themselves to be disability-friendly on their applications, but still find that relatively few candidates with disabilities apply. Meanwhile, everything from the application, to the interview, to the pre-employment testing can quietly exclude qualified candidates. Since we know that people with disabilities comprise a mostly-untapped pool of worthy candidates, we’d like to present a few solutions that are simple to implement and easy to maintain. The Alberta Human Rights Commission specifies that employers have a duty to accommodate short of undue hardship, but we’d prefer to draw your attention to the thousands of clients who have walked through our doors—clients who are ready, willing, and able to work. If employers want to make the most informed hiring choices possible, we recommend considering the basic principles of inclusive hiring, which benefit employers as often as job-seekers.

The Application: Keep it Simple (and Accessible)

Job applications can seem straightforward and simple, especially to those designing them, but three out of five job-seekers claim to feel confused by a typical application, whether because the instructions are unclear or because the forms are excessively long.
The first and best design principle of job applications is to keep them as simple as possible. Any nonessential procedures should be reserved for a later point in the screening process, to reduce applicant fatigue and frustration. Don’t hide important information in the middle of long paragraphs, or interrupt the process with tangents about your company philosophy. Present the form in a concise manner that ensures candidates understand what is being asked of them, and label all required fields for clarity.
Next, consider specific accessibility requirements. Is the third-party application platform you’re using accessible for low-vision users? Is it compatible with screen readers? Can those using dictation software access the input fields? Is keyboard navigation always available for those who can’t use a mouse? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, and you don’t have an accessibility consultant on hand, have people with disabilities test it for you, or contact the platform’s staff to learn about their accessibility measures.
If you are hosting the job posting on your own website or social media accounts, ask yourself the same questions about compatibility and accessibility. There are many resources online devoted to designing accessible websites. An ounce of prevention is always preferable to a pound of cure.
Finally, assess the content in your application. Are the images and screenshots described? Do videos have transcripts or captioning for D/deaf candidates? In short, can anyone with basic computer skills understand and apply for your job posting?
Tip: if you’re concerned that any part of your application may exclude a qualified candidate, provide an alternate application method—perhaps an email address—so that anyone who cannot use the default application has another way of sending you their information. Make sure your Human Resources department is aware of this alternative, lest staff discourage an applicant from reaching out.

The Interview: Accommodate, and Focus on Ability

Employers should assume that not every interviewee will disclose the presence of a disability beforehand, and take a proactive approach to interview preparation.
First things first: consider your interview venue. Is it physically accessible? If so, it’s helpful to notify all candidates in the interview invitation. Have a backup location in mind in case the original space presents impassable barriers. You want your candidates focusing on their interview preparation, not on whether they’ll be able to enter the building. The interview invitation is also a perfect time to mention that you are happy to accommodate access requests. Some interviewees may feel emboldened to disclose at this point, which will make the process smoother for everyone.
Next, prepare your staff to plan inclusive interviews. Ensure that all paperwork and handouts are available in alternate formats for visually impaired interviewees, and know that they may require assistance with signing hard copies (we recommend investing in a handy signature guide, which is also useful for anyone with unsteady hands). Honour specific requests as best you can, and ask clarifying questions.
During the interview itself, resist the urge to interrogate the interviewee about the exact nature of their disability, and keep the interview squarely on topic. Never ask questions like “Are you capable of the basic duties of this job?” Assume that if a candidate has taken the trouble to apply and attend an interview, chances are they are able to accomplish the necessary duties. Instead, ask about workarounds and methods: “I see you have some video editing experience. What types of software do you use? Are there any accommodations we can make for you?”
Don’t worry if you’re nervous or unsure. It’s likely the interviewee expects this, and will be glad to answer pertinent questions about how they will approach the job.
Tip: Broaden your candidate pool by considering alternatives to the traditional interview for applicants with high anxiety, autism, and other conditions that make the typical interview setting excessively difficult. Work trials and skills tests are excellent ways to assess a candidate’s suitability, depending on the job duties.

Pre-Employment Testing: Make it Relevant and Inclusive

Pre-employment testing can let candidates with weaker interview skills shine more brightly, but it can also exclude people who would excel in the job but struggle with the limitations of pre-employment tests. Since testing varies widely from employer to employer, we’ll provide a few general guidelines. For more in-depth insight, we suggest an accessibility audit.
The most vital tenet of inclusive pre-employment testing is that it remains relevant. Assessing a candidate’s soft skills is important, but some tests are gratuitously complicated. Trim the fat when designing testing, so that no unnecessary hurdles remain. Is that colour-matching personality test essential, especially if it shuts out visually impaired candidates? Does your testing interface depend on inaccessible software? Is extra time allocated to candidates who may work more slowly in exam-like situations but who would be perfectly efficient in your day-to-day environment? No matter what you’re testing for, you’ll want the process to reflect the actual job as closely as possible. Do not assume that being unable to complete pre-employment testing in its default form is a sign of incompetence; you’ll risk dismissing people who would otherwise be valuable assets.
Tip: Collaborate with candidates to work around testing issues. A more flexible test is not necessarily a less rigorous one.


Beyond the specifics, inclusive hiring is all about facilitating equal access. An inclusive screening process is not an easy, simplistic, or ineffective one. It is more flexible, less convoluted, and more inviting. Committing actively and continuously to inclusive hiring processes sends a positive message to employees, customers, and fellow employers, and that can only be a positive thing for your business.
Ultimately, implementing inclusive hiring contributes to a more diverse and talented workforce. Hiring inclusively is not just the right thing to do–it’s the sensible thing to do.

11 Years of Pancakes: Friendship, Gratitude, and Community Partnerships

Eleven years is an awfully long time, and a whole lot in our world has changed since 2006. New programs were introduced, a new CEO arrived, and the community in which we serve continued to grow. One thing that has remained constant, however, is our annual Community Pancake Breakfast—a give-back event set aside for community-building, networking, and the celebration of the people who support us in our efforts to make Alberta a more inclusive, welcoming province.
Given its impressively long history, our Pancake Breakfast is always well-attended, and draws guests from all imaginable walks of life. We can usually count on a few hundred hungry people including families, politicians, and local partners. This year, for example, Councillor Tony Caterina made a speech, the Highlands branch of the EdmontonTony Caterina giving a speech Public Library set up a table, and the Alberta Federation of Labour made an appearance. Friends, neighbours, partners, supporters, clients, and members of the general public flock to our yearly breakfasts in anticipation of delicious free food, fun outdoor activities and, of course, the chance to show their support to us and the people we serve every day. Proud as we are of our work here at DECSA, this is a time for recognizing the efforts of our surrounding community.
First, we give thanks to our volunteers, who took photos, served food despite intense heat, helped supervise tables, and made themselves useful in every way they could find. We could not hope to succeed without exceptional souls who donate their time freely and gladly. A special nod to a dozen students from CDI College is in order, as they all arrived bright and early and were chiefly responsible DECSA volunteers from CDI college serving food to the guestfor ensuring the breakfast ran smoothly.
Second, we must recognize our wonderful guests, who skip the chance to sleep in to eat, laugh, and enjoy the sunshine with us. We could not ask for a better neighbourhood, community, or city. We are truly blessed to be surrounded by such lively, active support from so many.
Finally, we express immeasurable gratitude to our sponsors, without whom we could not have hosted our breakfasts at all. Northlands has been our chief sponsor for years, and this year was no different. We thank them for helping us provide food for the breakfast, as well as the equipment used to prepare and serve it. Without a contribution from Northlands, our Community Pancake Breakfasts wouldn’t be possible. We must also acknowledge Re/Max, who lent us tents, a bouncy castle, and other equipment to ensure all our attendees would have everything they need for a comfortable and enjoyable morning. Edmonton’s Food Bank, which has been a loyal partner and provides ongoing and essential support to DECSA on a consistent basis, enhanced our breakfast by  DECSA guest are enjoying their breakfast in front of the RE/MAX tents providing beverages for all the guests. Given the high demand for food bank services across Canada and in Edmonton itself, we are doubly grateful for this assistance. We must also mention CIBC and Sun Life Financial, as staff from both companies have been long-time friends of DECSA and can be counted upon to lend us support during important events and milestones. Last but certainly not least, we owe many thanks to the kind community member who donated his petting zoo. The animals were a welcome addition to the event, and their gentle dispositions allowed us to give our young visitors an especially memorable experience.
And so, for now, we put the photos away, and move along to other exciting events planned for the coming months. Next year, though, we hope to see you all at our 12th Community Pancake Breakfast. Help us keep this treasured tradition going for another 11 years!

Picture of a tipi

 

 

Who was left out on Equal Pay Day?

Yesterday, we celebrated Equal Pay Day, which recognizes the gendered pay gap that persists even in 2017. Canadian women generally make about 87 cents to every Canadian man’s dollar, but the gap is wider in other parts of the world. Depending upon location, career field, age, race, and other complex factors, women still make about 20% less than men overall. This pay gap feeds systemic inequality, especially when women are paid less than men for the exact same work, and takes a toll on the health of any economy.

Today, though, we’d like to place the spotlight on a different but no less meaningful wage gap that, even on Equal Pay Day, few people seemed to be discussing. People with disabilities, who form one of the largest minority groups, face a pay gap even wider than the one affecting women. Disabled Canadians make about 25% less than their nondisabled counterparts. Elsewhere, they make as little as 37% less than nondisabled workers. Since people with disabilities already deal with other employment-related barriers, such as a high unemployment rate and fewer opportunities, the pay gap is just one more roadblock to their success.

Part of the reason this pay gap exists is society’s belief that people with disabilities are automatically worth less and are less productive at work. Regardless of education level, prior experience, and personal skills, people with disabilities still find themselves proving and reasserting their competence at every career stage. Indeed, higher educational attainment doesn’t narrow the pay gap. If anything, it widens it. People with disabilities who have a master’s degree or higher make about $20,000 less than nondisabled peers annually, even when working in exactly the same positions. No matter how well-educated a person with a disability becomes, they are at risk of being deemed less worthy of a salary commensurate with their educational achievements.

The pay gap persists at all levels, however, especially in places where subminimum wages are legal. The United States has come under fire many times for an antiquated law that permits employers to pay disabled workers below the minimum wage if they are perceived to be less productive than someone without a disability. These wages can be so staggeringly low that the worker is making less than a dollar per hour. This practice is usually found in sheltered, segregated workshops, where the labour of workers with disabilities is treated as inferior and paid for with correspondingly low wages.

Unfortunately, such laws and practices are not unique to the United States. Canada has sheltered workshops of its own, which were originally intended to give disabled workers job training but eventually led to decades of underpaid, undervalued labour. Provinces like Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba all have old laws on the books that allow employers to pay employees less if their “physical or mental deficiencies” are likely to disrupt productivity. These laws are rarely invoked, but one time is really too many.

Adding to the issue is that people with disabilities tend to work fewer hours annually, mirroring the plight of women, who also tend to work fewer hours per year and consequently make less money. Men with disabilities only work about 750 hours annually, while men without disabilities work about 1,280. Women with disabilities work about 556 hours annually, while women without disabilities work about 993 hours per year. Further, people with disabilities are overrepresented in lower-paying jobs, just as women are.

Hands of different skin tones hold varying amounts of monty

Equal Pay Day is a great initiative, but some voices were left out of the discussion. Photo provided by Shutterstock.

The two situations reflect each other so perfectly that it is a wonder more people are not speaking out about this glaring example of inequality. There is abundant research on the gendered pay gap, but far less study devoted to examining the disability pay gap. Why? Why is 20% of the world’s population being left out of the important conversation that Equal Pay Day sparks each year?

At DECSA, we work hard to uphold the dignity and success of people with disabilities. We work with them every day, and know them to be competent, educated, skilled individuals who are ready, willing, and able to work. They make up a portion of our staff and contribute just as meaningfully as our nondisabled employees. We know that the single greatest barrier between them and gainful employment is society’s attitude, so we work to change that attitude wherever we can. Please join us in acknowledging inequality, disparity, and discrimination. Help us ensure that this conversation extends beyond us and into a world that so often misunderstands and undervalues workers with disabilities. In Canada, we all have the right to work. Let’s come together to protect that right.

Tickets on Sale for DECSA’s Surf & Turf Fundraiser

Remember last year’s inaugural Surf & Turf dinner? The music, the food, the competitive auction… Oh, you didn’t get to go because it was sold out? Well, tickets are now on sale for the second annual fundraiser! After the success of last year’s event, we knew it would become a staple of our fundraising efforts, while providing an entertaining evening for everyone in attendance.

Surf & Turf 2nd Annual Dinner and Fundraiser poster

The event, which takes place on May 27th, is a chance for Edmontonians to come together to support Albertans who face barriers to education and employment. DECSA relies on generous sponsors and community support to keep our doors open, and this Surf & Turf is one of the best and most enjoyable ways to show your support for our clients. If you’re concerned about breaking down barriers for people with disabilities, sexually exploited individuals, people facing mental health issues, and/or any Albertans dealing with other complex issues, you’ll want to take advantage of this opportunity.

Man doing jumping-jack-like movement in the air, guided by his partner.

Our guests had very creative dance moves!

Join us for fresh lobster, flown directly from P.E.I. Enjoy premium rib-eye steaks (or a vegetarian dish, if you prefer). Indulge in some dancing, and make use of our cash bar.

If you’re seeking additional ways to contribute, you can take part in our live and silent auctions, which will include items produced by local businesses. You can choose to bid on a wide range of items, including artwork, airline tickets, hotel stays, gift certificates, and even a luxurious Sunday brunch.

Tempted? Register and purchase your tickets online, or call (780) 474-2500. We’ll likely sell out once again, so don’t wait too long. We look forward to seeing you there!

People sitting at a table wearing bibs with lobsters on them

Lobster bibs were the pinnacle of fashion that evening!

The Case for Disability Disclosure

Common wisdom states that you should never disclose a disability on a job application. In fact, one study found that 75% of respondents said the risk of not being hired was enough to prevent them from ever disclosing their disabilities. Mention disability on a job application, career advice so often says, and watch your resume slip quietly to the bottom of the slush pile.
Much as we’d like to claim otherwise, there’s a nugget of uncomfortable truth buried in this approach. One of the reasons the unemployment rate is disproportionately high among people with disabilities is that there are fewer opportunities. No law or regulation is powerful enough to change minds, and employer attitudes still act as a roadblock for prospective candidates. Organizations like DECSA are continually working to abolish harmful myths about disability in the workplace, but our reach isn’t limitless and the wider world has a long way to go before the field is truly equal.
All is not bleak, however. Positive messaging about inclusive hiring, especially from influential corporations like Starbucks and Tim Hortons is helping employers and candidates realize that disability and employment need not be treated like oil and water. Equal opportunity employers are reaping the benefits of diverse hiring practices, encouraging everyone else to take the leap.
So, given the many success stories and the widespread promotion of disability awareness, there has never been a safer time to disclose a disability early in the job application process. It may not be the best decision in every case, but disclosure should no longer be universally discouraged.
You may well ask: “Why should I take the risk? Just because it might not jeopardize my career doesn’t mean it will help, right?” James Gower, who has Cerebral Palsy, explains that in specific situations, disclosure is not only safe, but advantageous. Choosing to disclose his disability on an application form allowed him to speak freely and extensively about the disability-related skills he had learned, such as adaptive sports, which may not have been strictly job-related but certainly demonstrated his flexibility and perseverance. James also points out that desirable traits, such as self-awareness, are sometimes enhanced by the very presence of disability. In this way, people with disabilities can give themselves a competitive edge in a time when standing out in the crowd is more important than ever.
One of DECSA’s Communications Specialists describes how disclosing her visual impairment in her cover letter actually bolstered her application:

It took a tremendous amount of courage to disclose my disability before the interview. I’d never done so before, and it went against all the advice I’d ever been given. I knew DECSA was open to candidates with disabilities, though, so I used that openness to give my application a memorable touch. I referenced my own personal advocacy in the disability community, linked to my blog, and illustrated how my intimate knowledge of one of DECSA’s client groups would help me serve their organization exceptionally well. I can’t say whether this improved my chances, but it really cut down on the pre-interview jitters—how will they react when they find out, and so on—and it definitely didn’t hurt my chances, either. I had all the right credentials and great references, but I think that disclosure may have given my application particular relevance.

Pre-disclosure can serve as more than an application boost, though. There may be cases when revealing a disability before the interview stage is necessary. For example, if a learning disability will affect skills testing or any other part of the interview process, it would be imprudent not to disclose it beforehand so that proper accommodations can be made. As James Gower points out, those with physical disabilities may require special accommodations at the interview, such as a suitable chair or an accessible entrance. Failing to disclose may result in avoidable anxiety and stress for both candidates and interviewers.
Most of the time, disability is just a personal trait like any other, and has little or nothing to do with the application process. Disclosing a disability when it’s irrelevant to the job search is unnecessary and even risky, so it’s best to exercise caution when doing so. That being said, it’s time we move away from a global practice of concealment and secrecy, toward a world where disability is neither feared nor penalized. Ideally, we at DECSA would like to see an open, inclusive application process for every career path. Until then, evaluate each situation on a case-by-case basis, and see where your job search takes you.
DECSA is an inclusive organization that celebrates and promotes diversity in all its forms. If you have a disability and would like assistance with your job search, contact us.

Breaking the Silence: Bell Let’s Talk

In honour of Bell Let’s Talk day, we’d like to address mental health—a topic very dear to our vision and mission.
Despite the many public initiatives, awareness campaigns, and personal stories meant to debunk myths and celebrate acceptance, stigma and shame associated with mental illness seems to reign supreme. Canadians’ fear and anxiety, rarely justifiable as it is, erects unnecessary and intimidating barriers between those with mental illness and the treatment that could save their lives. Since mental illness affects all of us, it’s more important than ever that we show support and solidarity, today and every day.

The Facts

Canada’s troubling mental health landscape can be illustrated by disturbing statistics assembled by the Canadian Mental Health Association:
• 20% of Canadians will experience mental illness at some point in their lives.
• Roughly 50% of those dealing with mental health issues never seek medical help.
• Mental illness, treated or untreated, costs the Canadian health care system billions of dollars annually.
• Men are especially at risk, taking their own lives four times as often as women.
• 24% of deaths among youth are a result of suicide.
• A staggering 3.2 million youth in Canada have experienced a depressive episode.

There is a promising statistic, however: the CMHA claims that, when help is sought, 80% of patients will benefit significantly from treatment.

If these statistics are any indication, mental health should concern all Canadians. It’s safe to say this is a national problem, one which both government and individual citizens must work to alleviate.

Immigration and Mental Health

Canada’s Mental Health Commission addresses cultural diversity which, while being a source of enrichment for Canadian culture as a whole, can also result in an inability to pursue professional help. Recent immigrants often endure feelings of displacement and culture shock, making it difficult for them to find appropriate resources and express themselves to health care professionals who may not understand cultural context. Some immigrants’ needs can be adequately met by expanding existing services, but other groups require new services that Canada does not yet have in place. The cultivation of cultural intelligence is vital to ensuring that suitable supports are always available to immigrants who need them.
Of course, not all immigrants are prepared to request medical help. They often grapple with the conflicting expectations of their families, Canadian society, and themselves. Campaigns like Bell Let’s Talk trumpet the value of openness, but not all cultures view mental illness with such acceptance. Disclosing a mental health condition can subject the patient to ridicule and shame. They may be accused of weakness. For example, Chinese women may not confess to feeling depressed because anything other than a cheerful disposition is regarded as a character flaw. So, some of the burden of improving mental health rests within immigrant communities. Society must welcome those who are able to come forward, showing them the warmth and understanding they may not find elsewhere.

Trauma and Substance Abuse among First Nations Communities

Health Canada’s website devotes a page to listing the specific challenges faced by First Nations people. Citing the trauma caused by the legacy of residential schools and colonial oppression, the article explains that it remains impactful and harmful today. There may be few people alive to describe the horrors they lived through, but trauma is cumulative, and is passed down to children and grandchildren. The accumulation of trauma leads to unstable mental health in Aboriginal communities.
Many First Nations people, particularly youth, turn to drugs and alcohol to cope. Addiction, already prevalent in Canada, is especially common and widespread in First Nations communities. Substance abuse can exacerbate existing mental health conditions, which only adds to the troubled landscape surrounding Aboriginal people.
Hope can be found in programs that focus on addiction treatment, recovery from trauma, and reconciliation. Due to disproportionately high suicide rates, programs targeting suicide prevention, particularly among youth, are also highly effective.

Mental Health on Campus

In recent years, Canadian postsecondary institutions have had to acknowledge a growing mental health crisis among their students. A mix of increasing academic pressure, unemployment, and the inherent issues faced by all young people—for it has never been easy to be young—conspire to decrease students’ general well-being. Academic life has always been challenging, but the strain students find themselves under seems to have grown exponentially. Some educators believe that this is partially the fault of primary and secondary education, which tends to emphasize self-esteem and an “everyone is a winner” mentality that is incompatible with postsecondary standards. Students may be less resilient, and a bad grade can throw them badly off course. Minor setbacks can have devastating effects.
Compounding the problem is the coping mechanism many students choose: the use of drugs, especially stimulants, leads to problems with substance abuse and addiction.
Typically, students prefer to rely on student-led programs to guide them through the process of improving their general mental health. Peer support is an essential part of the postsecondary experience. Policies encouraging mental health awareness can also do a great deal of good.

What We Can Do

Besides advocating for policies that will make affordable, effective care available to all mentally ill Canadians, there is a lot we can do as individuals to assist those who need us most.
• Listen: active, compassionate listening is a valuable skill that can make it easier to facilitate openness and acceptance. An attentive, nonjudgmental ear can make a world of difference.
• Speak up: use your voice to promote mental health awareness, and place pressure on those in power to implement mental health strategies aimed at improving the health of all Canadians.
• Reach out: if you are dealing with mental health challenges, do not do so in isolation. Talk to loved ones, and seek medical help if necessary. Mental illness is as legitimate and serious as physical illness; you cannot afford to ignore it.


DECSA is committed to mental health advocacy, especially when it comes to preserving the right of all Albertans to work. If you or someone you know feels trapped by barriers associated with employment and education, contact us. Our doors are always open.

Bell Let's Talk Campaign: DECSA talks about mental health.

Don’t Forget the Men: Supporting Male Victims of Sexual Exploitation

Whom do you picture when you hear the words “sexual exploitation?” How about “human trafficking?” “Prostitution?”
Research suggests you’re probably picturing a woman, as this is the image associated most strongly and persistently with victims of sexual exploitation. The media have been instrumental in perpetuating this stereotype, even though it silences and ostracizes an important demographic: men.
We may think of men as perpetrators of sexual exploitation far more often than as victims, except perhaps when it comes to prison culture. When society addresses sexual violence and exploitation, particularly in the trafficking industry, it’s usually addressing young women.
Besides the fact that men outnumber women in industries outside of commercial sex trafficking (such as labour trafficking), they also make up a not insignificant number of victims in the sex trade. After all, one victim is still one too many.
Focused as it is on hypermasculine ideals of manly strength and power, society’s reaction to the notion of male victimhood makes it more difficult for men to report their experiences. They may feel emasculated by what they have done and had done to them, believing their manhood has been compromised. While they generally have the same reactions women do when dealing with sexual violence, men may respond more readily with anger, and tend to turn to substance abuse to erase or at least manage the effects of trauma. As they confront these issues, they are left to do so mostly alone, with few front-line workers from schools, shelters and other social organizations available to offer support. For many front-line workers, sexual exploitation of males just isn’t on their radar.
Worse still, men can face resistance and stigma when they do choose to report. If they are believed, which is not a given, they may make themselves vulnerable to ridicule and shame. Enduring the victim-blaming typically aimed at women victims is hard enough: why didn’t they just leave? Was there any chance that they deserved to be abused? Was it really exploitation if they were “working?”
In addition, they must battle questions geared more toward masculinity: why did they allow themselves to be exploited? Were they not “man enough” to find a way out? Some victims even struggle with the physiological responses of their bodies—did they secretly enjoy what was happening to them? Has their victimhood been cancelled out by physical processes beyond their control?
So, what with prescribed gender roles, societal expectations, and a misinformed public, what can be done?
The consensus seems to be that barriers between men and crucial supports need to be removed. First responders and other Front-line workers who administer help and guidance to victims of sexual exploitation need to remain aware that men are potential victims. Men must have ready and barrier-free access to support as they navigate away from exploitation and toward personal freedom. Men must be believed, validated, and empowered. Most importantly of all, sexual exploitation of men must be studied more comprehensively so that the best possible support can be provided. The field is flooded with statistics about women; it’s time more research targeted men.
One of DECSA’s main goals is to help both men and women free themselves from sexual exploitation. We run a 20-week Transitions program, open to men, women, and transgender individuals who have past or current involvement in the sex trade. In January, two groups—one for those identifying as female, the other for those identifying as male—begin their journey in the Transitions program. While women participants have already begun, the men’s group will start on January 27th.
If you wish to exit the sex trade, we encourage you to contact us to see whether you qualify for one of our program groups. We welcome the opportunity to help, so please get in touch.

3 Reasons Your Job Search is Unsuccessful (and How to Improve)

The job hunt is unpredictable: there’s no way to know how long it will take or what the results will be. This unpredictability should never be used as an excuse not to conduct the most organized and efficient search possible, though. Yes, job hunting is somewhat influenced by luck, but many unsuccessful, frustrated job-seekers are going about things in entirely the wrong way.
Here are a few reasons your job search might not be going as well as you’d like, and some ways to turn it around.

You’re Living the Unemployment Lifestyle

If you’re reading this after having spent two hours firing off resumes from your bed, this section is for you.
There’s a reason the phrase “looking for a job is your job” is so often spoken. This piece of well-worn wisdom has solid roots. If you approach your job search as a disorganized, chance-based process, it will lead to unnecessary stress and exhaustion.
Treat your search like a new job. Set goals for yourself and stick to them. For example, decide how many resumes you want to send out in any given week, and aim to meet those expectations, just as you would in any other job. Targets, plans, and deadlines are excellent methods of organization whether you’re employed or not.
If you structure your life the way you would if you were already employed, you’ll increase motivation even more. Avoid sleeping in, lounging around in your pyjamas, and job searching from your couch. Maintain a healthy routine, and resist the urge to isolate yourself. Make sure you’re always in “productivity mode,” so you’re ready to hit the ground running once you do receive that job offer.
Good news: DECSA’s Community Hub, which is open to the public, is an ideal place to go if you need to be productive somewhere other than your kitchen. You can work in a comfortable, well-equipped environment where free coffee, expert advice, and Wi-Fi are always available. What’s not to love?

You’re Afraid to Network

We know, we know: networking is nerve-racking, especially if you’re introverted or shy. Social anxiety and other issues can complicate the process (we have a program for that). No matter how you might feel about it or what type of job you’re looking for, networking is an unavoidable reality. You may as well resign yourself to that fact and start giving it a try.
Networking can take various forms, depending on your needs. It can be as simple as talking to people—friends, family, former classmates—about your job search and what you’re looking for. Even the most casual conversation over lunch with an acquaintance can produce a promising lead.
If you’re feeling a little more ambitious, you can take your networking to the next level. Join professional organizations and mingle with people who work in the field of your interest. Getting to know these people will equip you with updated knowledge on your industry, including salary expectations and soft skills you may not realize are in demand. These professional networks can also help you tap the hidden job market, since many jobs are never advertised publicly at all.
Having a support system of some kind is a good idea on general principle. Knowing that there are people looking out for you when you struggle can be a relief in itself.
More good news: One of our strengths here at DECSA is our network. We have placed so many clients throughout the years that we’ve amassed a long, diverse list of contacts. Regardless of what you’re looking for, it’s likely we’ll know the right people.

You’re Not Getting Noticed

Online job hunting is convenient, but it does come with one huge drawback: competition is fiercer than ever, and you have fewer opportunities to market yourself. It’s challenging to stand out in the crowd when you’re up against hundreds of applicants. People tend to apply for jobs they’re unqualified for, simply because online forms make it so easy to do so. Your application, no matter how relevant, can get buried, so it’s no longer optional: you must set yourself apart.
Application forms ask for standard information, which can be an obstacle when attempting to catch a hiring manager’s attention. The best strategy is to present standard information in a nonstandard way. Anyone can list a long series of job duties, so try focusing on your personal accomplishments instead. Did you go above and beyond in your last position? Which tangible targets did you surpass? In which ways did you improve the organization you worked with last? Fitting this information into the boilerplate application form will demonstrate initiative and personal achievement.
Most applications will ask for a resume, even if you must also fill out a separate form. This is your moment. Make it count. There are thousands of articles out there to help you craft a customized resume that will demand the right type of attention, so we won’t get into specifics here, but rest assured that a tailored resume is a must. You may even find yourself adjusting your resume for each application, so choose a flexible format. Please, never neglect the cover letter. It’s not always required, but it’s almost always going to give you an edge.
The best news yet: did you know that here at DECSA, we have resume and cover letter writing services? If you drop by our Community Hub on week days, our expert staff will help you write a personalized resume and cover letter. You don’t need to be a DECSA client. All you have to do is visit us.


If you’re looking for a way to kick your job search up several notches, please contact us. Even if you don’t qualify for one of our specialized programs, you’re still more than welcome to make use of our extensive walk-in services, equipment, and well-stocked business library. In the meantime, browse our website for more information.
Good luck!

Want To Make $$$? Hire Inclusively

This article was reproduced with permission from the author of Life Unscripted. The original can be found here.


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.