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.

4 Tips to Manage Stress

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.

1.      Differentiate good and bad stress

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.

Unhappy dog is wrapped up in a blanket

Don’t let stress get you down. Photo by Matthew Henry with Upsplash

3.      Look after your health

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.

4. Minimize stressors before they become a problem

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.

 

Jingle Bells Mark the End of 2016

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.

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Staff, volunteers, and clients gathered in our Community Room to share a turkey dinner.

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.

Adrian shares an indigenous story with the crowd

Adrian, Transitions Case Manager and Job Developer, performed an Aboriginal song about kids raised by a brown bear.

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.

Deborah stands next to three clients, each has a box filled with food

Three DECSA clients won Christmas hampers containing ham, potatoes, and stuffing!

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.

Q & A: What Does Prostitution Really Look Like?

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

Kathy

Kathy Brown, Transitions Program Manager

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.

Photo of girl cryingQ: 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 choiceBe free of sexual exploitation. Graphic of man in hoodie?

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?

A: 100%

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.

We’re Serving Holiday Spirit (And We Need Your 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.

The Holidays are a time of celebration and reflection, especially for individuals facing barriers. Support our GoFundMe campaign so we can host, feed, and bring joy to our clients!

 

Entrepreneurship Isn’t For Everyone: Is It For You?

Almost everyone dreams, however briefly, of being an entrepreneur. The independence, the passion, the flexibility—these are all attractive prospects, especially after a long, gruelling day at a conventional job. Who among us hasn’t imagined what it would be like to be our own boss?

Businessman with briefcase and laptop

The independent, classy entrepreneurship lifestyle looks great, but is it really for you? (Photo by Olu Eletu for upsplash.com)

No matter how exciting entrepreneurship may seem, it isn’t for everyone. It takes a special person to conceive a viable idea, make it grow into a successful enterprise, and nurture it through inevitable ups and downs. Some lack the zeal, confidence, and work ethic; others, the money and time. If starting a small business isn’t suited to your personality, you’re in for a long, hard road.

If you’re on the fence, here is a starting point. This assessment won’t give you a definitive answer, but if you answer “no” to one or more of these questions, entrepreneurship probably isn’t for you.


  1. Do you enjoy challenges? There’s nothing easy about establishing your own business, so you’ll need to relish a challenge and enjoy new experiences, no matter how anxiety-inducing they are.
  2. Are you competitive? Whether your business is unique or an innovative approach to an existing product or service, be prepared to face competition.
  3. How well do you handle risk-taking? If you’re risk-averse, you’ll find the entrepreneurial lifestyle stressful, and it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to sustain it for long. Even highly-successful business owners will have to make calculated risks at some point in their careers. On the other hand, if you’re “comfortable with being uncomfortable,” you’ll be right at home!
  4. What’s your approach when spending money? You have to spend money to make money, but unhealthy spending habits are hard to break, and can do serious harm to your business.
  5. Can you handle long-term commitment? Growing your business means you’ll be pouring your resources and time into the same project, day in and day out. It won’t always be fun, interesting, or successful, so you’ll need to know that you can weather the tough times—and there will be tough times.
  6. Do big decisions scare you? Decisiveness is one of the qualities entrepreneurs must possess if they hope to succeed. Running a business means you’ll be faced with all sorts of decisions, and many of them will involve huge expenditures and frightening risks. If you believe you can handle these decisions under crushing pressure, you’re likely to be an excellent entrepreneur.
  7. How do you respond to stress? Burnout is common for new business owners, since they work long hours with minimal support (or none at all). Coping with stress and exhaustion in a healthy, efficient way is key.
  8. Is persistence in your nature? Throughout their journeys, many entrepreneurs contemplate giving up. A strong work ethic and zealous passion aren’t always enough. While it’s important to practice self-care and avoid unnecessary stress, entrepreneurship means refusing to fold under significant strain.

Ventures: Entrepreneurs with Disabilities ProgramWhile these questions can serve as a springboard, remember that there’s no replacement for research and hands-on experience. Even if your personality matches that of the ideal entrepreneur, you still need to discover whether your idea is viable and, if it is, whether you actually want to pursue it. Examining your chosen field, starting your business on a very small scale, and interacting with other entrepreneurs are additional ways to test the waters. You can also get out and participate in entrepreneurship workshops or programs, such as Ventures, DECSA’s program for entrepreneurs with disabilities. After all, studying entrepreneurship on paper is nothing like the real thing.

The Myths and Facts of Asking for Help

Myth: Asking for help makes you weak.

Many people are socialized to believe this but it is smarter to avoid working in isolation. Humans are naturally cooperative, so functioning as an island goes against nature. Feeling indebted to someone else can be awkward, but overcoming this awkwardness to lean on others shows strength, not weakness.

Myth: You’ll figure it out on your own, somehow.

Sure, it’s likely that you’ll manage on your own, but why manage when you can excel? Collaboration can yield the best results, especially if you work with people whose aptitudes are compatible with your project. Some assignments just aren’t possible to complete by yourself in a given time frame. By refusing to ask for help and struggling along on your own, you’re actually missing out on potential networking and relationship building opportunities.

Woman surrounded by outstretched hands

Your teammates may be more willing to help than you think. (Photo by Christian Newman, upsplash.com)

Myth: People don’t want to help me.

Don’t get us wrong: during particularly busy times, your peers may be stressed and unable to take on further tasks. However, most of the time, people like to help, as altruism makes the reward pathway in the brain light up like a Christmas tree. When you specifically seek someone out for help, they may feel especially useful. Lastly, picture your own reaction: you’re willing to help others, so what makes you think they don’t want to help you, too?

Fact: Asking for help is worth it.

Don’t let these myths discourage you from asking for help. If you’re specific about what you need and why, and direct and polite when asking, you’re likely to receive the help you need. And if they say no, ask someone else, or adjust your plan for completing the assignment. In addition to meeting your targets, accepting help from someone is likely to lead to an even better relationship built on trust and mutual understanding. Of course, never forget to give a heartfelt thank you and make sure you pay it forward! Next time someone asks you for help, return the favour, if you can.

Courtney helping a client at a workstation

Our dedicated staff, like Courtney, can help you find a job.

How can DECSA help you?

DECSA is available to help Albertans overcome barriers to employment and education. Individuals looking to exit the sex trade are invited to join our Transitions program, where we provide supports and encouragement to escape the sexual exploitation lifestyle. Youth between the ages of 15-30 with a visible or invisible disability are welcome in our Assets for Success and Time for Change programs, where we assist them in getting the skills and making the connections necessary to enter the workforce. We also offer a unique program for entrepreneurs with disabilities called Ventures, which assists with business planning.

So why not reach out for help when you need it? There’s a lot to gain and little to lose.

DECSA: Skills, education, employment