Toronto Island to Become Red Light District?

by Michelle Brock on March 28th, 2011

Georgio M1 300x224Some concerned HFTS readers recently sent me articles about a shocking proposal coming from Toronto Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti:  the creation of a red light district on Toronto Island.  This really should not come as a surprise, as a regulated brothel district was one of Mammoliti’s central campaign tenets in his (cut-short) run for mayor last year.

His argument?  It would provide millions of dollars in revenue for the city and provide a well-defined area where the sex trade can flourish.  Mammoliti told CBC news that such a place would increase Toronto tourism as well, and is planning to discuss it with Toronto’s mayor Rob Ford soon.

In response to these developments, I am writing a letter to both the councillor and the mayor (you can read it here).  I would encourage our readers, especially those living in Toronto, to write to them as well.  Contact information for Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti is:

TorontoIsland1Toronto City Hall
100 Queen Street West, Suite B27
Toronto, ON M5H 2N2
[email protected]

Mayor Rob Ford’s contact information is:

Office of the Mayor
Toronto City Hall,
2nd Floor,
100 Queen St. West,
Toronto ON M5H 2N2
[email protected]

Here are some points you can include in your letter:

  • Though a sex island would probably increase tourism, are large groups of men seeking paid sex the kind of tourist we want more of?
  • When Amsterdam lifted its brothel ban and began a regulated prostitution industry, sex trafficking became easier and organized criminal groups moved into the area.  The City Council has since tried to back track by shutting down huge sections of the red light district and the mayor has called the lifting of the brothel ban an abysmal failure.
  • When demand for paid sex begins to increase, it will be impossible to contain it to an island. Brothels, massage parlours, and escort services will likely spring up in other parts of Toronto as well.

I will give Mammoliti the benefit of the doubt that he is simply seeking tax revenues and is unaware of the implications a red light district would have on Toronto Island and the rest of the city as well.  Now it is our responsibility to tell him that the big picture looks very different, and that increasing demand for paid sex is a recipe for more sex trafficking, exploitation of women, and organized crime.  An island like the one proposed would draw crowds for the novelty of it, and it would be difficult to back track later on.

For articles on Giorgio Mammoliti’s proposal, check these out:

write letter1 300x199Get more informed on the legalization debate – this will help you as you write your letters/emails. You can also download and sign this letter from EVE and send it to your member of Parliament.  Special thanks to Carly Romano for raising this to my attention and dialogging with me this weekend!

**Update: read my letter to Mayor Ford and his response here**  Read more about legalization of prostitution in Ontario here.

**Read about the Ontario Court of Appeal’s ruling on prostitution (spring of 2012), as well as Max Waltman’s explanation on how it was based on misrepresented evidence.

September 2012 update: we are making a documentary about legalization of prostitution, its connection to sex trafficking, and preventative models that decrease sexual exploitation.  Here is how you can help!




Friday Encouragement: Firework Cover by Mike Tompkins!

by Michelle Brock on March 25th, 2011

My friend’s husband, Mike Tompkins, is a creative beat boxer who does some amazing covers.  We’ve all heard this one on the radio by Katy Perry, but Mike adds his own creativity to Firework and really makes it come alive!  Today I dedicate this song to abolitionists and survivors of sex trafficking: keep lighting up the darkness!

You can check out more of Mike’s music here.

Michelle Brock


Do John Schools Work? My Interview with Ian Mitchell of Vancouver’s Prostitution Offender Program – Part II

by Michelle Brock on March 23rd, 2011

This is part 2 of Tuesday’s post, on the topic of john schools.  I visited Ian Mitchell, who runs the prostitution offender program from the John Howard Society, and asked him some questions about his work.  Read part 1 here.

John School BC 300x225The men who come through your doors – are they angry? Ashamed? Arrogant?

Embarrassment, shame – whether its shame of what they were doing or because they got caught, is hard to say. I insist on them taking responsibility before I let them into the program. Some hard cases don’t. I remember one very religious guy, driving a semi, parked it on the Kingsway, went to get a girl, and is in denial that he was doing that. In the interview, at the arrest, he sat through an 8 hours school, still saying that was not what he was doing. But you look at the police file and that was definitely what he was doing. Hard for him to admit because of his religious background. Total denial.

Some argue that john schools are not effective. What do you think?

UBC did research on our first 500 people, came up with statistically significant attitude change. We haven’t done any recitivism studies but judging from the information we get back from the police, I would say recitivism is about 1%. Now we don’t know, they might go to massage parlours (hide it better) or escort services. For me it is not just about recitivism, but actually getting information to these guys that (a) they have chosen to deny or (b) it is new info to them.

change of direction1Do people accuse you of imposing your morals on these men?

Our approach toward the guys is this: We recognize you come into this room with your own sense of morals and values. This school is not about us trying to find out what they are, it is not about us telling you they should be different, or talking down to you telling you our morals are better than yours. All we are going to do is give you information of the realities of the sex trade, things that you’ve possibly denied or not known, and at the end of the day we simply ask you: given who I am and what my morals and values are, does it still fit for me to continue this behaviour knowing what I know now?

The Vancouver john school is in a bit of a strange phase right now. Can you tell me more about that?

Support for the school has declined.  Some feel that prostitution simply cannot be dealt with, and this attitude permeates.  But I’ve just had four referrals from Vancouver Crown, this is huge.  I just got a call from a probation officer recently, and will have a guy coming in today who only speaks Japanese so the interview will require a translator.  We are trying to restructure the program.

Stings are harder because most complaints now are about bawdy houses.  One police officer said that probably every apartment building in the West end has at least one bawdy house in it.  It is harder to catch.

changeWhat’s the hope?

We have to raise our men and our women differently. From what I understand we seem to be back to a pre-feminist society as far as young women are concerned. They have to dress for men, undress for men, be sexy for men…and then the amount of sexual content not only on the web but advertising – how do you in a free speech society tone that down? How do we raise our young men differently?

What we are doing is not going to get rid of prostitution. What I am hoping for is that it will have a small effect. Hopefully convincing that guy, and to convince his buddies and kids. The John Howard Society deals with guys coming out of prison, how do we reduce the prison population? You go right back to birth almost! A bunch of social issues are at play – drug abuse, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, addictions, gambling, drugs, alcohol, social capital, being born born into subsidized housing or a third generation welfare family. That is a lot to consider.

Thanks Ian for the work that you and for being willing to let me drill you with questions!

Now I ask our readers this:  do you think it is possible to change men’s attitudes about prostitution? Anything else strike you as interesting in this interview?  How do you raise your boys to respect women?  Let me know your thoughts below.  Check out part on of the interview here.

Michelle Brock


Do John Schools Work? My Interview with Ian Mitchell of Vancouver’s Prostitution Offenders Program – Part I

by Michelle Brock on March 22nd, 2011

johnschoolOne term that has come up repeatedly in my trafficking research is ‘john school,’  which is an educational intervention program that provides men who are caught paying for sex with information about the realities of prostitution.

The first john school was established in San Francisco in the 90′s, and since then several major cities across North America have launched similar programs.  The ultimate purpose of a john school is to reduce demand for paid sex. Victims of exploitation, police, and health care workers make presentations, trying to demonstrate to the men that their actions can have devastating effects.  The hope is that the men will change their behaviour as a result.

Mitchell Interview1 257x300John schools are very controversial.  Though most in the anti-trafficking community want to end demand for paid sex, some argue that that john schools allow men to get off easy because they simply pay a fee and sit in a class instead of going to court.  Others claim it is a morality play, while yet another group questions the effectiveness of the educational approach.

I wanted to find out more firsthand, and after hearing that there was a john school in Vancouver, I set up an interview with Ian Mitchell.  He is the coordinator for the BC Prostitution Offender Program and was willing to sit down with me for an interview.

When did the Vancouver john school start and why was it started?

Vancouver police were originally responsible for getting the school started. They were receiving a lot of complaints about street prostitution and would set up stings accordingly.  This was in 1999, and I took over in 2000.

How does a sting work, and how does it lead to men walking through your doors?

In a sting a woman police officer dresses up like a prostitute.  A guy drives up and makes a deal, giving the police enough evidence to proceed to court with that.  If he meets certain criteria (ie. not carrying drugs or weapons, no extensive criminal record etc), he’ll be given an appearance notice for court and our brochure.  This gives him the option of (a) going to court in 90 days and fighting it, or (b) attending our prostitution offender program (john school) by paying $500.00 and going from there.

Cop Ticket

There is a critique that john schools offer men the ability to buy their way out of court.  How do you respond to this argument?

Here it costs them an hour with me, 8 hours in the school, and $500.  In court they might get a $50 fine which is often conditional.  They don’t learn as much in court as they do with us.

Why would someone opt to come to the john school?

Court is more public. This program is confidential. Another thing we get critiqued for from time to time by women’s groups saying that their partners need to know. And I say, I don’t disagree with that, but what we’re trying to do is educate them and if they’re looking over their shoulder wondering about their partner, we lose them. This way hopefully we can convince them not to do it again. Hopefully we can convince them to get checked for STDs, and that way their partners their partners will find out but maybe we can stop them from doing it in the first place.

back2school1What is the format of the school itself?

  • We start with a short film with a prostituted woman.  Then we have a nurse from BC Centre for disease control – he is a street nurse who deals with drug addicts and prostitutes.   His role is not to scare them (some john schools do that but we don’t) but is very personable and gets the men talking.  It’s basically a safe sex lecture.  The BCCDC is not for or against prostitution, but presents the men with information about STD’s and how that could affect their families.
  • Then we turn it over to the Vancouver City Police.  This is a very important part because it lets the guys see police in a different role.  Their experiences on the street gives them stories to tell and current cases to talk about.  They go through what the laws are, what being ‘found in’ is, what a bawdy house is, etc. By the time we are finished with them, prostitution is not something they are even considering anymore.
  • We show a video called Stolen Lives and break for lunch.  Police come back and tell them about the police record system which is different from the court record system.   If someone is picked up under Section 213 and choose court instead of our program, he will start a court record, and once he is convicted, he gets a criminal record. A police record simply marks down that this event happened.  If the man comes to us, the police record shows no statement of innocence or guilt, just bare bones facts. If they through our program, that is all their record will show.
  • After this, the Servants Anonymous Society comes in.  They run two houses that help women get out of the sex trade and present on healthy relationships.  Who are we as people of value? The guys really like that part.  We then usually have 3 young women from the streets that come tell their stories.

Part II of this interview is coming on Thursday.  Mitchell will discuss the attitudes of the men coming in, the ‘morality’debate, the effectiveness of the program, and why stings are more difficult today than they were in 2000.

What do you think so far?  Do you think education about some realities of prostitution can prevent men from buying sex?  What do you think of Mitchell’s response to men ‘buying their way out of court?’

Michelle Brock


Freedom Week 2011 in Pictures

by Michelle Brock on March 18th, 2011

For those of you who missed it, here are some pictures from Freedom Week in BC (courtesy of Tara Teng).  I hope it inspires you to get behind the movement to end human trafficking!

Freedom Week Play 3

Through Their Eyes Theatre/Dance Performance

Freedom Week Play

Freedom Week Play 2Freedom Week Play Jamie MJamie McIntosh from International Justice Mission Canada

Freedom Week Play TaraMiss Canada Tara Teng addressing the crowd

Freedom Week PetitionPetition for National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking.  Get your own here.

Freedom Week March 2Freedom Walk in Langley

Freedom Week March 3

Freedom Week March 1Freedom Week March 4Marika SiewertMarika Siewert performing.

Props to everyone who poured their energy into these events!  Your hard work is not in vain.

Michelle Brock




Book Review: The Whistleblower – Sex Trafficking, Military Contractors, and One Woman’s Fight for Justice by Kathryn Bolkovac

by Michelle Brock on March 16th, 2011

whistleblowerI just finished reading the riveting true story of Kathryn Bolkovac, author of The Whistleblower: Sex Trafficking, Military Contractors, and One Woman’s Fight for Justice. Here is an excerpt from the back cover:

When Nebraska police officer and divorced mother of three Kathryn Bolkovac saw a recruiting announcement for private military contractor DynCorp International, she applied and was hired. Good money, world travel, and the chance to help rebuild a war-torn country sounded like the perfect job.

Bolkovac was shipped out to Bosnia, where DynCorp had been contracted to support the UN peacekeeping mission. She was assigned as a human rights investigator, heading the gender affairs unit. The lack of proper training provided sounded the first alarm bell, but once she arrived in Sarajevo, she found out that things were a lot worse. At great risk to her personal safety, she began to unravel the ugly truth about officers involved in human trafficking and forced prostitution and their connections to private mercenary contractors, the UN, and the U.S. State Department.

Bosnia Herzegovina maps

Fiction author Steven King says that readers expect fiction to be believable and non-fiction to be unbelievable.  Based on the fact that several times I caught myself collecting my jaw off the floor while reading this book, it is safe to say the Whistleblower falls into the latter category.  The book confirms what I wrote in a previous post about how some DynCorp (America’s largest military contractor) and UN peacekeepers exploit the vulnerability of women in war-torn countries.

dyncorpHere are a few things that stood out to me as I was reading:

Dive in. The book gets to an exciting start and reads like a story, making it easy to follow while weaving important factual information into the plot.

Shocking discovery.  DynCorp background checks for the people they hire are poor or non-existent, and training for the field is minimal. Considering that these people are going to be working within different cultures, political climates, and economic landscapes, thorough training is absolutely essential if they are to affect positive change.

Bolkovac tells of how many of her co-workers simply wanted to blow things up and show locals how to use force. This reminded me of a U.S. soldier I met on a plane who boasted to me about shooting whatever he wanted overseas because he could.  Hooligans should not be permitted to serve in a place where war, death, and pain still hang heavily in the air.

First alert. Bolkovac’s first exposure to peacekeepers creating demand for sex trafficking victims was hearing a co-worker boast about where to find “really nice twelve to fifteen year-olds.”

Breeding Ground. The book does a good job explaining why conflict zones are especially attractive to human traffickers:

Bosnia fit the bill for a healthy breeding ground.  Human trafficking follows a predictable path of infestation: it seeks out environments that are warm with tumult, such as the aftermath of war or the fall of communism.  Then it preys on desperate victims who are brought in over porous borders and past bribable guards. Strategically, it breeds near a region teeming with internationals, because they are the ones who have the money to feed it (p.85).

Irony: How is it that those who are supposed to be spreading peace in the world are in fact fueling and participating in the flesh trade?  The sheer number of colleagues that Bolkovac found guilty of this crime, combined with the ‘sweep under the rug’ attitude of those in leadership, makes us all long for justice.

Kathryn Bolkovac 11Evidence gathered. I struggled reading about how Bolkovac was mistreated by her superiors due to her discoveries, but was fascinated by her ability to collect evidence against her co-workers.  She was demoted and later fired, and escaped Bosnia because of threats to her own safety –  from the very company that she had worked for!

Admiration. Bolkovac took DynCorp to court and made headlines.  How many people are courageous enough to take on a corporate giant with government ties?  Since then, DynCorp has changed their legal jurisdiction to Dubai, where it is virtually impossible for new lawsuits to be brought against them effectively.

Out of Your Pocket. To bring it closer to home, those of you who live in the U.S. are paying for DynCorp’s operations with your tax money.  Is this kind of behaviour what you want your money to support?

There is so much more I want to write about this book, but will leave the rest for you to read yourself. You can buy the book here.  And for those of you who don’t like to read, you will be happy to know that a movie is being made about Bolkovac’s experience!  I will keep you posted.

Has anyone else read this book?  What do you think of international peace keepers buying and selling women and children?  Do you have an experience with DynCorp you’d like to share?  Would love to hear your comments below.

Michelle Brock


Should Canada Legalize Prostitution? Panel Discussion with Gunilla Ekberg, Lee Lakeman & Trisha Baptie

by Michelle Brock on March 14th, 2011

swedish law 225x300If you have watched our film on sex trafficking in Canada, you will recognize the “Swedish model” as a strategy that has worked to curb sex trafficking and the exploitation of women in Sweden.  In 1999 Swedish government criminalized the purchase of sexual services and decriminalized those selling it, ensuring that men would be held responsible for prostitution and that women would have access to exit programs.  Due to its success, the law has been adopted in other Nordic countries.

Gunilla Ekberg, who played a key role in creating the Swedish model, is one of my favourite researchers and a well sought-after human rights consultant.  You can imagine my delight upon discovering that she was headed to BC!

womens day 266x300On International Women’s Day last week, I had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion in Victoria entitled “Prostitution and Women’s Equality: Imagining More for Women,” organized by EVE (Formerly Exploited Voices now Educating) and REED (Resist Exploitation, Embrace Dignity).  The panel consisted of Gunilla Ekberg, EVE’s Trisha Baptie, and and Lee Lakeman from the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres.  Prostitution law was the topic at hand, which is quite timely in light of the Bedford case and the push for legalization of prostitution in Canada.


  • Trisha Baptie, who worked in the sex trade (both indoor and outdoor) for 15 years, kicked off the discussion by sharing that prostitution is violence against women that is “born out of sexism, classism, racism, poverty, and other forms of systemic oppression.”
  • crisis phone1 300x225Lee Lakeman spoke about her experience answering crisis calls at sexual assault centres, explaining how social service cuts in the BC area led to more calls from prostituted women.
  • The descriptions given by trafficking victims and “local prostituted women” were always similar.  This trend pushed rape crisis centres to take an official position on the prostitution issue.
  • Due to the physical harm on the body and how paid sex contributes to the dehumanization of women, they believe that prostitution is violence against women and should not be legalized. Lakeman suggested that as a country we must look at how poverty and racism play into prostitution, and to not lord our wealth over other countries but forgive debts and build foreign aid to protect the vulnerable around the world.

Gunilla Ekberg, who participated in the negotiations at the UN Palermo Protocol and has directed several national and multilateral projects to combat human trafficking in the EU, had the following to say:

  • Many pro-prostitution groups use Germany and the Netherlands as examples of where Canada should head regarding prostitution law.  Both countries have decriminalized prostitution, making it legal to buy sex.  Instead of proving that this approach works, these two countries are actually a case in point of how legalization fails to protect women, decrease trafficking, or curtail organized crime.
  • amsterdamOn October 1, 2000, the Dutch Parliament decided to remove the provision in the criminal code that criminalized the brothel.  This came after 20 years of debate on how one would control organized prostitution.  The lifting of the brothel ban created a new economic sector, allowing anyone to establish a brothel, escort service, or massage parlour by simply applying for a license from the municipality.  The municipality cannot refuse such requests, and in fact many brothels are even found in farm houses.
  • Contrary to popular belief, almost all those in brothels are independent contractors. They can easily receive a license, most regions simply requiring show of ID and a payment.  As independent contractors, their well-being is not guaranteed by the brothel owners. Many brothel owners have said in interviews that what happens behind the door is not their responsibility as long as it does not interfere with the commerce of the brothel.
  • Though some rooms have a panic button, women struggle getting to it when they are in danger with a violent man.  Some in Canada argue that indoor prostitution is safer that street prostitution. But it is not the place that harms you – it is those who are paying for your body that cause harm.
  • When you have a legal sector, police back off, and traffickers are drawn to the area. In 2003 and 2004, Amsterdam City Council realized that they had invited Estonian and Nigerian ‘mafia’ into the area, who can easily get girls into the country with ‘tourist’ visas.
  • CORPORATE SPEECH 300x235In an effort to have more control, the government said that girls need to meet with a social worker before getting a license.  A Turkish pimp who owned 100 brothels in the Netherlands sued the government for this mandate, on the basis that such an initiative would hinder his profits under corporate law. When you legalize prostitution, you enable organized criminal groups to establish corporations with rights to sue the government over lost profit. Is this what we want in Canada?
  • Germany lifted their brothel ban in 2001.  To improve conditions for those in prostitution, they offered special social insurance benefits to those who wanted it.  The first evaluation of the law found that most of the women in the legal sector were from other countries. The second evaluation showed that the conditions of those in prostitution had not changed, and in 5 years only a handful of women (about 5) had taken advantage of the special social insurance benefits. In addition to this, the new law did not help women exit prostitution.  The law had failed to do what they had hoped.
  • Therefore the German government finds itself in the same situation as the Netherlands. Traffickers have organized large brothel conglomerates with the rights of corporations, and both countries are trying to backtrack.  Is this what we want for Canada?

This can be contrasted to the approach Sweden took in 1998.  From 1994 to 1998, the percentage of women in Parliament rose from 27% to 47%.  The law they created, which criminalized the purchaser of sex, addressed the narcissistic sexual behaviour of men.  How has this worked?

swedish model end demand1

  • When the law came into effect, police in Demark noticed that traffickers were setting up shop there instead.  This demonstrates that traffickers try to avoid places with hostile laws regarding prostitution.
  • Pimps, traffickers, and johns are convicted together in one trial, so that the victim only has to testify once.  This ensures efficiency in the system and protects the victim from even more emotional trauma.
  • One woman from Russia was trafficked and sold around apartments in Stockholm.  She was forced to service over 500 men in 3 weeks, and said afterward that if it had not been for the law, she would have been dead.  The law made them stop the abuse and helped her to realize she had value.
  • Violators of the law are dealt with swiftly, whether they are well-known or not.  Two famous football players, a police chief, a lawyer, two politicians, a CEO of International Securitus, and a Supreme Court judge, are among those who have been convicted recently.
  • Twelve years after this law came into effect, a special government inquiry, led by the chancellor of justice (highest legal position in Sweden) was conducted.  It found that the number of people in street prostitution had halved since 1998.  In comparison to neighbouring Denmark (which does not have such a law), Sweden’s market for paid sex had plummeted.
  • When asked about deterrence, the majority of men responded that legislation or public shame would deter them from paying for sex. This shows that the law can help change behaviour of some.

canada can do better2Instead of backtracking, like Germany and the Netherlands, Sweden is taking these laws further.  A new bill is coming into effect on July 1, extending prison terms for men who are convicted under the law.

Ekberg was hoping that the bill would also enable the courts to convict Swedish men who pay for sex in other countries with a similar prostitution law, but that portion did not pass.  “Next battle!” she says.

The event ended off with some discussion and questions, including a statement from one person arguing that women should have the right to prostitute themselves, and that prostitution and trafficking were not the same thing.  To this, Lee Lakeman replied: “The brilliance of patriarchy is disintegration of issues,” and Trisha Baptie questioned:  “Why are we standing for our individual right to prostitute instead of standing with our sisters?”

maple leafThank you Gunilla, Trisha, and Lee for sharing your experience and expertise with us, and for showing us that Canada can do better for prostituted women.

For more reading, check out Max Waltman’s article:  “Prohibiting Purchase of Sex in Sweden: Impact, Obstacles, Potential, and Supporting Escape”, and a Solutions Journal article entitled “The Swedish Approach: A European Union Country Fights Sex Trafficking”.

You can also get more information about the legalization debate at the EVE and REED websites.

What do you think about the Swedish model? About legalization?  If you attended the event, either in Victoria or Vancouver, I would also love to hear your thoughts below.

**September 2012 update: we are making a documentary about legalization of prostitution, its connection to sex trafficking, and preventative models around the world that work to decrease sexual exploitation and demand for paid sex.  We need your help to reach our funding goal for this project!  Find out more here.  All donations receive tax receipts.

Michelle Brock


TRADE Trailer: A Movie About Sex Trafficking

by Michelle Brock on March 11th, 2011

Five years ago I was at a leadership conference in Atlanta, and out of 10,000 people received 1 of 100 tickets to pre-screen a film called TRADE.  This movie changed my life. Since then sex trafficking has been the issue that refuses to release me from its grip.

In my opinion, out of all the feature length movies I have seen with a human trafficking theme, this is the best and most accurate (unlike TAKEN which has too many Hollywood-style explosions and unrealistic characters). TRADE tells the story of a Mexican girl who is kidnapped and sold into the United States, and a Polish girl who arrives at an airport only to be trafficked for the purpose of commercial sex.

Heartbreaking.  Infuriating.  Frustrating.  Enlightening.

Go rent this film or buy it here, I highly recommend it.  Has anyone else seen this film?  What did you think?

Michelle Brock

Reminders for the weekend:

  • Freedom March on Saturday in Vancouver (meet at Douglas Park – 20517 Douglas Crescent – at 9:30 am for registration).  March begins at 11 am. First 450 people to register receive “Stop Slavery” ribbon to wear!
  • Freedom Sunday to follow the next day.


Take a Stand to End Slavery: Join the Movement

by Michelle Brock on March 9th, 2011

TakingStandMB 224x300Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, and I got to start my morning by being interviewed for CBC radio regarding my post on Ontario’s Sexual Violence Action Plan.  It is great that interest is increasing worldwide for this issue!

Later in the day I went to Victoria to see a panel presentation with Gunilla Ekberg, who was a key player in creating the Swedish model of dealing with prostitution, Lee Lakeman representing rape crisis centres, and Trisha Baptie who shared from an experiential woman’s perspective why prostitution should not be legalized.  Wow. If you have a chance to see the panel speak in Vancouver on Thursday, it is totally worth your time! Details here.  I will be posting more about some event highlights soon.

Today I am excited to spread the word about a campaign by CNN to make a statement about modern day slavery.  CNN ireport and GOOD are seeking people to take a stand, and send in a picture (like mine above) or video holding a sign that says “I’m Taking a Stand To End Slavery.”  It is part of the Freedom Project, and those who participate will be asked to take part in future challenges.  You can submit your photo and get more details here.

Will you join me? Let’s use this opportunity to make a strong statement about human trafficking and modern day slavery!  And just a reminder for those of you in Vancouver, Freedom Week is happening right now and you should make your voice heard!

For some International Women’s Day posts, check these out:

To the Men and The Most Exploited Blessing by Miss Canada Tara Teng
The Feminism of Men and Romance by Roxanne Krystalli
On International Women’s Day, Ask Kanye to Stop Glorifying Sexual Violence by Amanda Kloer 

Let’s celebrate the wonderful women in our lives this week, and fight for the right of those who are enslaved.

Michelle Brock

**Thanks to Roxanne for notifying me of this CNN project!


Native Girls at Risk for Trafficking: How a Young Hitch Hiker Captured My Heart Last Week

by Michelle Brock on March 7th, 2011

snowstorm1 1024x768When I was 15 years old, I would often walk home from my tutoring appointments.  One day a blizzard came out of nowhere, prodding me to stop for a hot chocolate at Tim Horton’s.  It warmed me up enough to brave the elements once again.  When I arrived home, my mom told me she had been driving up and down the road I walked on, trying to find me in the snow storm. Her concern – that I was cold, hungry, tired, or lost – made her leave the office early to come search for me.

Jones 300x277Two weeks ago I took part in a community walk for Tyeshia Jones, an 18 year-old native girl from Duncan, British Columbia who went missing on January 22.  She was walking late at night through a wooded area to meet a friend, but never showed up.  After an extensive search by police, her undressed body was found near a cemetery on January 28.  Her killer has not been found yet. This follows the trend of over 500 missing and murdered native women and girls in Canada over the last 15 years.

The Take Back the Night walk drew out crowds from all over the Cowichan Valley.

IMG 6198 1024x768

I thought that surely this would alert young girls about the dangers of walking alone at night, especially in dark, isolated areas where they are an easy target.  After all, awareness is the key to change, and such a brutal murder would be a wake-up call for many.  Sadly, an event occurred as I was driving home with my husband last week that has made realize the complexity of vulnerability.

We were driving on a fairly isolated road at around 10 pm on Tuesday, when we saw a young girl in a mini skirt trying to hitch a ride.  She looked 14, maybe 15 years old.  It was raining.  We drove past her, and my husband pulled a U-turn just in time to see a group of guys park their car on the side of the road and start walking toward the girl.  We cut them off and told her to get into our car.

We asked her some questions, and she told us she was coming from a family get-together and often walked home at night.  We asked her where she lived.  We drove, and drove, and drove…for a good 15 to 20 minutes.  She directed us onto a dirt road with no lights.  Dense forest.  I felt a tightening in my chest as we drove deeper and deeper into the bush.  This was a sex offender’s dream.

This girl was Tyeshia!  Her situation was the exact same – walking home alone on isolated reserve land.  She had attended the same community walk we had, but did not make the connection that she was in danger.  We told her she should try as best she could to arrange rides ahead of time and reminded her that Tyeisha’s killer was still on the loose.  We dropped her off at a run-down, white house in the middle of the forest, surrounded by piles of cans and bottles.

I felt sick to my stomach and barely slept.  What would those guys have done if we had not cut them off?  This girl’s house was right across the river from the area where Tyeshia’s body was found.  I realized how for granted I had taken the concern of my mom who was willing to drive in a blizzard to find me.

hitch hiking rd2 682x1024When we made our documentary about sex trafficking in Canada, we interviewed a researcher named Anupriya Sethi about why Aboriginal women and girls are particularly vulnerable to being trafficked. She mentioned that often native girls have to hitch hike to get on or off reserves, and traffickers, pimps, johns, rapists, paedophiles, and murderers take advantage of this vulnerability.

I never thought I would see this trend with my own eyes.

I want to believe that if we make girls aware of dangers, trafficking and exploitation will stop.  But there is so much at play here.  If this girl’s family was not willing to drive her home at 10 pm, what kind of support system does she have?  The fact that she often had to walk home demonstrated that she did not have a parent concerned enough about her to make her stop hitch hiking.  What other option does she have of getting off the reserve?   We may be tempted to call her foolish and that she is bringing it upon herself, but we have to look at the system of oppression and poverty that defines her life and address that on her behalf.bbbs1 300x225

How are we, as a society, willing to do that?  A friend of mine is part of the Big Sisters program, which connects kids to mentors who come alongside them through the difficulties and struggles of life.  One group here in the Cowichan Valley is trying to address income inequalities and want to raise the minimum wage to a living wage.  I would love to see more street lights on reserve roads.

Thanks for letting me share my heart, it has been so heavy this week.  We MUST watch out for those in our communities who are vulnerable and think of creative ways to solve systemic issues of oppression.

Michelle Brock

Freedom Week 2011 has just started in Vancouver!  For details on events, including Gunilla Ekberg’s talks on the Swedish Model of dealing with prostitution, click here.