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Trapped in the Sex Trade

December 5, 2008
Near the intersection of Jarvis & Shuter, Toronto.
I was returning to my apartment building one week ago when a 30-something smoker tried to strike a conversation. It was raining and well past midnight, but I obliged by seconding her complaints about the weather.
“Would you like some company?,” she then asked. Her name was Donna.
By “company” she meant the paid, sexual variety. Her request took me by surprise, even though prostitution is prevalent in my east-end neighbourhood. I politely declined her proposition, conscious not to sound judgmental or embarrassed. I then informed her that I was a journalist working on a program about the sex trade.
“Oh, the stories I could tell you,” she replied, her previously cheery voice now expressing the grit of a war veteran.
I brought down a couple cups of tea and we sat in the building lobby. Donna's story was like that of so many woman I had read about. Pushed by a demanding, abusive boyfriend, she found herself in a terrifying lifestyle she didn't know how to leave.
Unfortunately, she did not have the support of a family. She explained that her mother had "a bad heart”.
Donna predicted that her debt bondage would soon end, but her hope for a new life was tempered by fear and uncertainty. Mindful of the many women who died before realizing this goal, I told her about some of the agencies that I had been researching. One exceptional organization is Streetlight, which connects women with health services, counselling, education, and employment alternatives. For Catholic Focus I interviewed one of Streetlight's founders, who herself succeeded in leaving prostitution and drug addiction.
“You know, I'm not a bad girl,” said Donna as we parted. Of course, I understood this well and told her so. I pray she believed this, too, and will find others to affirm her goodness and worth.
Catholic Focus: "Preventing Another Pickton" airs Friday and Sunday at 7 PM, 10:30 PM and midnight (ET).