I'm sharing my story because I want Canadians to understand that sex trafficking is happening here in Canada and I want parents to understand the danger that their daughters could be in -- right in their own neighbourhoods -- or in my case, the local rec center.
I come from an upper middle class family. When I was 10 years old we moved to Winnipeg. As the new kid, I was bullied in school. I felt so anxious, vulnerable and alone that I didn't want to leave the house.
Then I started hanging out with some girls in my neighbourhood -- we would go to the local recreational centre.
It was there that I started to hang out with the wrong kids, mostly older boys.
At first, they made me feel special and cool. Then they pushed me to use drugs like to crack cocaine. I became addicted after trying it once.
Soon, the drug dealers connected me to the man who preyed on me. He bought me nice clothes and expensive gifts and used the drugs to manipulate me. I now realize that I was being "groomed."
At first, I thought he was my boyfriend. Then he convinced me to have sex with strangers to make money. He was my pimp. I was 15 years old. I was being advertised on the Internet and sold for sex to support my "boyfriend."
He was a master manipulator and he controlled my every movement -- I felt both terrified and completely dependent on the man who was preying on me. He used drugs and physical violence to force me to do whatever he wanted.
I lived in fear all the time.
I went from Winnipeg to Vancouver, Edmonton and Toronto, where I was exploited to make money for my pimp. In Toronto, I was sold from one pimp to another. I felt worthless.
I was beaten, abused and threatened.
For over 12 years, my life was a haze of being bought and sold, violence and fear and using drugs to block out the reality of being sex trafficked.
I tried to get out. I was in and out of rehabs and hospitals. I felt so hopeless, felt so much guilt and shame, that I jumped off a bridge, broke my back, my legs and my feet. I spent six months in the hospital rehabilitating.
Then I became pregnant. I knew I had to change my life or I would never be able to parent my baby. Community resources like the Joy Smith Foundation helped me to heal, both physically and emotionally. They gave me my life back and allowed my daughter the chance to have a loving mother.
Now, I am in my second year of college and I have a beautiful little girl and a loving relationship with my parents.
I know that I need to use what happened to me to be a voice on this issue -- that if I can just stop even one more girl from being sold into sexual slavery, we will have accomplished a miracle.
I want parents and teachers to know that this is a real danger to their girls. I think that if I'd known the signs that I was being groomed for sex trafficking, it might not have happened to me. I'd warn parents to watch for red flags like new clothing, drugs, anxiety, or depression and attempts to run away. Predators don't discriminate. Raising awareness and knowing the signs is our first step to ending sex trafficking in Canada.
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Jessica is a sex trafficking survivor and mother.
Published: December 2nd, 2015
Updated: December 2nd, 2016