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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.

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3 Little-known Facts About Leaving the Sex Trade

The sex trade is often shrouded in mystery, which is made still worse by societal stigma. Those who work in the profession do so out of necessity and face difficult decisions. With so much pressure from the general public to abandon this type of employment, we feel it’s worth informing that public of what it is like for a sex worker to leave the lifestyle and search for a place in a world that does not welcome them.

1.      The stigma never goes away Photo of girl crying

Former sex workers expect hate speech and degrading treatment from others in the trade, but they often receive the most ill treatment from those on the outside. If they are outed as former or current sex workers, they are almost always faced with the threat of losing their mainstream jobs. Employers are not averse to dismissing former sex trade workers, even if they have not worked in the industry for decades. It is difficult enough to begin such a radical transition, and it is made still harder by the need to hide what they’ve done in the past. Regardless of how successful they become, they will always have stigma dogging their footsteps.

2. Judgment Abounds, but Support is Lacking

Since sex work is so heavily stigmatized, many are eager to encourage those in the industry to exit as quickly as possible. They heap condemnation on these individuals, insisting that their work devalues them and chips away at their self-respect. In other words, they’re not really respectable people until they change professions. Despite this, support for transitioning sex workers is lacking. Even if the initial process is smooth and they find work, they risk losing their jobs if they’re outed, and find themselves very much alone in their struggles. This is why DECSA established our Transitions program, to help these people start their new lives without judgment or disrespectful treatment. Transitioning may seem like a simple decision, but it is by no means easy.

guys-face3. Transgender Individuals are Uniquely Vulnerable

Being transgender is almost guaranteed to mean the world will be a hostile, dangerous place to live. Transgender people, especially women of colour, are often victims of socioeconomic barriers, and they feel that sex work is the only way to support themselves. Further, transition is very expensive, so financial pressures are even more debilitating. Sex work is demeaning, yet individuals may find that it’s the only viable way to keep themselves off the streets. Being a transgender individual is risky at the best of times—they are frequently assaulted and even murdered—and the sex trade necessitates a lifestyle that is less than ideal, both emotionally and physically.

 

Sex trade workers are a vulnerable and misunderstood group, who are caught between a dangerous profession and a hostile society. This is why DECSA dedicates much of our resources to helping sex trade workers exit safely, get back on their feet, and secure mainstream employment. One of our greatest accomplishments is preparing these individuals to take control of their lives and build a brighter, healthier future.

Road to Hope: DECSA Transitions Program

Shaw TV has produced a Road to Hope feature on DECSA’s Transitions program!

Watch the video below to hear about the difference DECSA has made in the lives of three women who exited the sex trade.

If you would like to donate to DECSA or volunteer, please e-mail Deborah Rose at drose@decsa.com.

Transitions Graduation & Beatrix’s Story

Beatrix at the Transitions graduation

Beatrix at the Transitions graduation

This week, another class of participants graduated from our Transitions program, which is for males and females (including transgendered individuals) who have experienced sexual exploitation or been involved in the sex trade.

Participants receive pre-employment and life management skills with the goal of moving into mainstream employment or education.

The program includes financial literacy, Basic Shelf cooking program, work experience, bus passes, counselling services, relapse prevention, cultural activities, Women in Motion, impacts of prostitution, relationship and family dynamics, skills development, career development, exposure courses and further education.

Beatrix, one of the graduates, took a moment to speak about her time in the program:

Coming to this program, I still carried a lot of shame and guilt. This program helped me realize that my past and the things that I’ve experienced – prostitution, drug addiction, domestic violence – didn’t make me who I was. I’m still a human being. Transitions gave me my self-esteem back.

And I don’t live in the past anymore. I’m living in the present. My facilitator here taught us that. So that’s really helped me. At first I argued with him about it – you don’t know what I’ve been through, all that. But it really made sense because living in the past can hold you back.

There’s a lot of honesty and unconditional love and acceptance at DECSA. You walk up and down the halls – the facilitators and participants and even staff in other programs, we all see each other and smile every day. And there’s kindness and there’s gentleness and there’s no judgement.

I’ve been in a lot of programs before, but Transitions has turned my life around. I got accepted to Yellowhead Tribal College. I start tomorrow, doing upgrading for the social work program that I’m going to take. I got a scholarship. I had a lot of fear about it. I still have some fears now, but that’s normal, right? Because more and more, I’m embracing the confidence and passion.

I’m not ashamed of my past anymore. I have a voice and I’m a woman who will use my past to help in any way I can. This is what Transitions did for me – I am so grateful to DECSA. And now I’m genuinely happy. Hiy Hiy!

To enroll in the Transitions program, you do not need a referral. Call us at (780) 474-2500 or visit us at 11515 – 71 Street to take the first step away from sexual exploitation and towards a better future.

Thank you to Beatrix for contributing to this blog post.

Video: Patti Shares Her Transitions Story

Have you ever wondered what our Transitions program is all about?

Watch our new video below to see Patti share her Transitions story and explain the program.

Click here for more info.

To enroll in the Transitions program, you do not need a referral. Call us at (780) 474-2500 or visit us at 11515 – 71 Street to take the first step away from sexual exploitation and towards a better future.

Transitions Graduation & Mina’s Story

Last week, another class of DECSA clients graduated from our Transitions program, which is for males and females (including transgendered individuals) who have experienced sexual exploitation. Clients receive pre-employment and life management skills with the goal of moving into mainstream employment or education.

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The cake is cut as Transitions clients gather to celebrate their graduation

Mina, a current Transitions client, came down to the celebrations at Kinsmen Park to support her peers who were graduating from the program and to honour their achievements. “I’ll miss some of the group members who are going to be leaving, because we’ve made bonds,” she said.

Mina first came to Transitions after being referred to us by Alberta Health Services – Addiction and Mental Health. “I knew I was in a very bad place and I needed some help getting on a better path. Addiction and Mental Health thought the program was a really good fit, so that’s why I ended up at DECSA.”

Transitions consists of two parts: 1) pre-programming, and 2) core programming. The length of pre-programming is different for each client, and core programming lasts 20 weeks. Pre-program content includes outreach support (housing, legal, income, addictions, etc), community referrals, and bus tickets.

Mina skipped the pre-programming and jumped right into the core programming. She now has 5 weeks left. “The best part of the program is the incredible self-awareness that I’ve gained – how I behave and think, how I move through life,” she said. “And through that self-awareness, I can make shifts and changes to make my life better.”

Jason, a class facilitator, notes that the program is performance based and targets specific behaviours. “The program is intense. It’s about what you can do, what you can change in the present moment to relieve stress,” he said. “And it works.”

Portion of Transitions MuralMoney was the biggest factor in Mina’s involvement in the sex trade. “That was probably where most of the bad behaviour in my life comes from – finances or lack thereof. So that fuels me to make terrible decisions,” she said. “I found that the financial literacy program offered at DECSA was hugely impactful. I learned awareness around how I spend, why I spend, what happens to my money, budgeting, building credit, and getting things a little tighter.”

Core program content includes financial literacy, cooking program, work experience, bus passes, counselling services, relapse prevention, Women in Motion, impacts of prostitution, relationship and family dynamics, skills development, career development, and further education.

Mina is currently seeking employment, and when she graduates from the program, she plans on returning to school and pursuing a degree in fine art. “Art is something I had done my whole life,” she said. “I just hadn’t taken it seriously. I was strongly discouraged from it from my group of peers and family. It had a huge effect. If I can’t construct, I will destruct.”

Constructive versus destructive behaviour is an idea that Mina returns to time and again.

“It’s always been a battle between self-loving and self-loathing,” she said. “These two extremes needed to come to some kind of balance – and leaning more towards the self-loving acts. Recognizing the negative side and acknowledging it, but not resting there. Resting on the positive side and then moving through life in the middle ground.”

Going forward, Mina wants to give back as a member of society. “I’ve learned that if you have no love inside of yourself, then you have nothing to give to anyone else. And I want to be a viable part of my community. I want to be able to give back some things that I’ve gotten, which is love and understanding and support.”

Transitions clients come to DECSA every weekday for class from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The structure is something Mina appreciates. “Routine is paramount for how I can constructively behave in this world,” she said.

To enroll in the Transitions program, you do not need a referral. Call us at (780) 474-2500 or visit us at 11515 – 71 Street to take the first step away from sexual exploitation and towards a better future.

Boo!

Witches, pumpkins… and an old man archaeologist! It was a mishmash of costumes today at our Halloween lunch party, which was hosted by DECSA’s Social Committee. We ate pasta, had a costume “fashion show”, and even won some prizes! The winner of our Door Decorating contest was The Assets for Success program, with the People’s choice awarded to the Community Relations department. Diep, also from Assets, won Best Costume with her “Old man Archaeologist” portrayal.

Happy Halloween everyone!

 

Cooking with Basic Shelf

basic shelf

“What I liked about Basic Shelf was the opportunity to enjoy instruction and quality fellowship with other participants. I also love the cookbook! I still use it to this day.”

One of the perks about being a participant in our Transitions Program is the Basic Shelf cooking program. Every Tuesday, clients meet at a local church and spend the afternoon preparing food, chatting, and most of all, having fun! The recipes come from the Basic Shelf cookbook, which features appetizers, entrées, and dessert items, all using nutritious, low-cost ingredients. Before class, participants choose the menu, and a staff member buys the ingredients. Afterwards, the food is divided up amongst the class, and everyone gets to take their culinary creations home. Participants are entitled to a $250 grocery trip of ingredients used in the Basic Shelf cookbook after completing 12 weeks of workshops.

You can find out more information about the Transitions Program here. You can also call the Transitions intake line at: (780) 474-2500.