The holidays are a time of joy, celebration, rest and the chance to unwind and spend quality time with loved ones. Unfortunately, not everyone has such an opportunity. The holidays are synonymous with an even greater degree of isolation and pain for hundreds of women and girls who are victims of sexual exploitation. The number of affluent johns gradually diminishes, as they leave Montreal for clearer skies in an effort to escape the winter. Nevertheless, there are countless Christmas parties across the province.
For those enslaved by sexual exploitation, the snow and cold indicate the dark months to come.
As you shop for a Christmas gift for a teenage niece you’ve only seen three times in fifteen years, another fifteen year old girl is doing her makeup, trying to make herself look more like a grown woman. Similarly to what one sees on YouTube or Instagram, she uses techniques such as contouring to manipulate the angles of her round and youthful face.
Her pimp, a man with a profound understanding of the sex industry in Montreal, reminds her that he expects her to bring in a lot of cash in this month of December. He knows that once the dead of winter arrives, his profits will temporarily suffer.
He firmly grabs her arm, though he does not intend to strike her; not tonight. He pretends to be a mentor, taking advantage of Valerie’s incredibly vulnerable situation. She ran away from the youth centre weeks ago and now has nowhere to go. He knows she sees him as glimmer of hope; the closest thing to being the family she never had. He gets her to value the sex industry as an opportunity to escape her environment and a “business opportunity” in which she will undoubtedly come out on top.
In a serious tone, he makes her understand that she needs to gain as much clientele as possible over the holidays. This is the last rush before Alexandre, Maxime and Jean-Pierre hole up in their homes with their wives during the months of the freezing cold, or spend their money on the next flight to Aruba rather than buying a night with her.
The holidays aren’t a happy time for all.
Victims of sexual exploitation in Quebec go through a particularly difficult time, and help is even harder to find, as everyone is on vacation. When they call help lines, they hear the same message time and time again: that there are longer wait times than usual due to a high volume of calls…
At La Sortie (The Way Out), our support team remains available during the holidays.
We are present and ready to welcome those most in need, those who cannot withstand the nightmare any longer. Human trafficking does not take a break for Christmas.
Therefore, we ask that this year, you give generously. Give your time, give money, give Christmas gifts. Everything you give can make a great difference in the lives of the survivors that we receive at our house designated for women. We need you. We need resources and volunteers in order to continue providing help and support for victims of sexual exploitation.
This Christmas, let’s give hope to those who have had it taken from them.
Text by Dominique Marzec
Translation by Matthew Plunkett