Advocates seek end to prostitution

Tyler
Tyler Clarke
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Oftentimes when the issue of prostitution comes up, the conclusion people draw is that it’s a choice, or that they’re asking for it. 

Oftentimes when the issue of prostitution comes up, the conclusion people draw is that it’s a choice, or that they’re asking for it.

“That angers me, because if I had a podium I would say all day, every day, ‘no,’” Prince Albert resident Donna Lerat said.

“I haven’t met a child yet … that said ‘this is what I want to be when I grow up.’”

Lerat, co-ordinator for the HIV Health Promotion Program at the Prince Albert Métis Women’s Association, joined Regina speaker Beatrice Littlechief in sharing her life’s story on Saturday.

The two former prostitutes spoke during the Prince Albert Alliance Church-hosted Defend Dignity event -- an national initiative that set on abolishing sexual exploitation in Canada.

Littlechief’s story was one of exploitation and inspiration. Formerly making ends meet through prostitution, she now helps women who are now in the position she once was, as Emergency Services manager at Soul’s Harbour -- a rescue mission in Regina.

“My story is like so many of my First Nations brothers and sisters – a story of abandonment and rejection, a story of abuse and shame,” Littlechief said.

“I survived and came out alive, and although the odds were against me, God was not.”

Littlechief’s story begins with her less-than positive upbringing.

As a result of poor parenting by her mother, who was dealing with the aftermath of the residential school system, Littlechief ended up in the foster care system.

“I don’t remember much from my childhood, but I do remember being treated differently,” she said. “As far as I knew I was half white and half First Nation, but they both rejected me. Where did I fit in?”

During this time, she faced physical, sexual and mental abuse, culminating with a choice to accept injection drugs at a small get-together of adults she was led to by another foster kid.

“This will take all your worries away,” a woman told her while handing her the needle.

“That night my whole life change,” Littlechief said. “I was no longer this young, normal girl, I was just another youth being prepped for the streets.”

The downward spiral continued through her teenage years, during which she recalls being assaulted more times than she can remember.

At the age of 17 she gave birth to her first of eight children, of whom one died during infancy.

Losing them to the foster care system due to her continued addiction to drugs, she faced a crossroads about 10 years ago, at which time she had to choose either kids or drugs.

So, she asked for God’s help.

“Sadly fireworks didn’t go off, but something inside me told me that it’d be OK.”

Although she admits she was surprised to have not burst into flames on entering a church for the first time, she was safe, and continued to attend.

I haven’t met a child yet … that said ‘this is what I want to be when I grow up. Prince Albert Métis Women’s Association HIV Health Promotion Program co-ordinator Donna Lerat

It’s this, she said, that helped give her the strength to put her life on a better track.

She happily reported that she now has her children back.

“That’s how it started for me,” Lerat said of Littlechief’s presentation. “That was my beginning.

“My story’s similar to a lot of other women, with the guns and the knives and the gun threats and the almost dying, and the rapes and the beatings and the being left outside the city -- praying each time that God would give me one more chance.”

Also a product of the foster care system, Lerat remembers eating dinner on newspapers spread out on the floor while the foster family ate at the table.

Focusing more on the present than the past, Lerat said that the Canadian criminal justice system isn’t doing enough. Greater penalties for abusers is one piece of the pie, but not the full answer, she said -- a topic highlighted in greater depth by subsequent speakers.

“How is it these laws we have in Canada do not protect to most at risk and marginalized?” Defend Dignity founder Glendyne Gerrard asked.

With Canadian prostitution-centred laws currently being called to question within the national legal system, Defend Dignity is advocating for the federal government’s adoption of the Nordic Law.

Enacted in Sweden in 1999, Nordic Law recognizes prostitution as violence against women, penalizing the buying of sex while decriminalizing those who are being sold.

During his presentation, Calgary Police Service member Daniel Rossi spoke to the importance of men’s role in combatting prostitution.

“We are a part of the problem -- a very significant part of the problem, but we’re also very much a part of the solution,” he said.

“I’m a firm believer that Prince Albert can be a catalyst – the men in this church, the men outside these walls can be a catalyst to this change.”

Capped off with a call to action, Saturday’s Defend Dignity event encouraged those in attendance to contact their local MP with information and support regarding Nordic Law, as well as to play their own role in abolishing sexual exploitation.

Consider not going to a strip club during a bachelor’s party, and to not view pornography, because somewhere along the line it’s enabling the sexual exploitation of women, Rossi said.

Saturday’s event was organized as a result of local concern when it comes to prostitution in Prince Albert, co-organizer Kim Maier said prior to the event.

"It's hugely prevalent in Prince Albert and surrounding area," Maier said of prostitution. "We were told the youngest prostitute now is 11 years old."

Organizations: Prince Albert, First Nations, Prince Albert Alliance Church Emergency Services Nordic Calgary Police Service

Geographic location: Regina, Canada, Prince Albert Métis Women Sweden

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Recent comments

  • JVM
    April 23, 2013 - 16:59

    Your a strong women Beatrice. When I see a gang member, a prostitute, or hear of all our native brothers and sisters in jails, I say to myself," Residential school"! Even if their parents or grandparents where there. It infected our people, brainwashing us with fear, hate and poor parenting and identity, leaving us conflicted. I am just coming to terms by listening to my moms story... she was tortured! We need to re-educate, the whole system, on body, mind, emotions and spirit. Reconnect to self and Identity, our spirits are strong but not at peace!

  • Jessica Kiunga
    April 22, 2013 - 14:14

    Excellent article! I attended the forum, which was hours long, and this was a great and accurate summary of what happened. Great to see the press covering events at the church, and the important work the church is doing to make our streets safer, and the people on them safer also.

  • Criminal Law is not for Sex.
    April 22, 2013 - 13:06

    Bizare that these women are prostituted by the abolitionist movement to keep sex in the Criminal Code. How does it help women who have been forced often through economic circumstance, to be marginalized? It is the criminality of their actions that cause physical harm to prostitutes, not the undignified status before God. People who want governments to enforce religious moral edicts through the violence of criminal law cannot believe in God's eventual reckoning of those on earth.