In this powerful episode, two members of The Traffik Report Collective share their personal stories. Both from rural communities, Thunder and Jessica are former sex workers who identify as survivors of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation. In an open and honest conversation, Jessica and Thunder keep it real. They talk about what was unique about their situations, why they are sharing their stories, how their experiences shaped their lives and where they are today.
Hosted by Elvira Truglia and Fay Faraday
Click on the 'Transcript' tab to read the show transcript.
Anyone who has experienced trafficking - including sex trafficking, labour trafficking, forced labour, forced marriage and other forms of gender and economic coercion - can reach out to the Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline operated by the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking which operates 24/7 at 1-833-900-1010.
You can also reach out to the organizations that are part of The Traffik Report Collective:
Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic (Toronto) (serving women, non-binary and trans folks experiencing gender-based violence, including in forced marriage and migration)
Binesiwag Center for Wellness (Fort Frances) (services rooted in Indigenous holistic wellness across the lifespan including Mental Health, addictions, direct support to 2SLGBTIAA+ folx, women and girls, as well as capacity building)
Canadian Council for Refugees (Montreal) (a network of organizations across the country supporting refugees and migrants, including undocumented migrants)
Elizabeth Fry Society of Northern Alberta (Edmonton) (supporting Indigenous women in Northern Alberta)
Fort Frances Tribal Health Authority (Fort Frances) (supporting Indigenous women and youth)
Mouvement contre le viol et l’inceste (Montreal) (supporting survivors of gender-based violence)
Ndinawemaaganag Endaawaad Inc. (Ndinawe) (Winnipeg) (supporting Indigenous youth)
PLEA Community Services Society of BC (Vancouver) (supporting youth experiencing or at risk of trafficking in BC)
YWCA Halifax (supporting women and youth in Nova Scotia)
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The Traffik Report
EP2: Survivor Sisters
NOTE: Transcripts may contain errors. Please check the audio before quoting in print.
Elvira Truglia 00:48
Welcome to The Traffik Report, a podcast that navigates sex and labour trafficking in Canada. Join us as we close the gap between the image and the reality of trafficking. I'm Elvira Truglia
Fay Faraday 00:59
And I'm Fay Faraday. On the show we have real conversations, share ideas about what's happening, and what's working on the ground, and build solutions for economic and gender justice.
Elvira Truglia 01:12
In this episode, we hear from two members of The Traffik Report Collective who are from non urban communities, and who identify as survivors of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation. Jessica and Thunder talk about what was unique about their situation, how their experiences shaped their lives, and where they are today.
Fay Faraday 01:31
This amazingly open generous conversation touched us deeply. It might stir up emotions for you, too. So take care of yourself as you tune in. Elvira and I stay in the background for most of this episode so Thunder and Jessica can tell you their stories and talk to each other unfiltered. We'll join the conversation later, but now let's pass the mic to Thunder.
Thunder Shanti Narooz van Egteren 02:02
Hi, my name is Thunder and I am a former sex worker. I started working in the sex trade when I was 19. At the time I was going to college, I was struggling to pay my bills, and already had a significant amount of debt that I was dealing with. I didn't know how I was going to pay my rent or eat. Plus, it was very hard to find a decent job in the small community where I was living in BC. So I thought what is the fastest and easiest way that I can make some money. I remember thinking of the clubs I had been to, and the TV series that I had started watching called The Secret Life of a Call Girl, which made everything seem fun, glamorous, and super easy. More than that, though, I just needed to pay my bills and meet my basic needs. So knowing what I know now and the spectrum of involvement that people have in terms of how they engage in the sex trade and the choices that they can or cannot make, I would consider my experience to be survival sex work. I did make the choice to start working. And I was over 18 so could legally make that choice. But what other choices did I really have? I had tried to negotiate with the bank. I had maxed out credit cards, I had done payday loans, I'd asked friends, I'd done everything I could possibly do to figure out my financial situation, and I needed the money. So it's that experience of I made the choice, but there weren't any other choices to make. I was of legal age at the time. So I did, I could legally consent to that and make that choice. But this was before the laws were changed. So at the time, I would have been criminally liable for working if I had been caught soliciting. So overall, it wasn't a safe situation. I looked up an escort agency and called them met with the owner really briefly, and then started working the very next night. They asked me to send sexy pictures for their website gave me a working name, Irena. I didn't have a choice in my name, and sent me on my first call that very next night. They didn't ask for ID. I didn't sign anything. And the agency took half of what I made every call. So really, I could have been any age as long as I looked over 18 because they didn't verify anything. They said that they would screen people who called in but never gave me any details about the process. So I have no idea if they were looking out for my safety or not. They did provide a driver, but I was expected to pay the driver out of my own money and tip them. There are so many experiences that people can have in the sex trade. And I recognize that mine is unique to me, while also acknowledging my own privilege. Having said that the situation was exploitative Because I desperately needed the money, and the people I was working for took advantage of that. I'm not someone that most people think of when they hear sex worker, escort, call girl, or even prostitute using an old derogatory term. I'm white. I pass for straight. I grew up in a big city in a nice neighborhood. My family was middle upper class, I was smart. I did very well in school. I had lots of extracurricular activities, and lots of friends. But I live with ADHD that was only diagnosed in adulthood, and have dealt with mental illness my whole life. I never felt like I belonged. And my self esteem was often very low. Knowing what I know now, I can also connect experiences like starting to drink very early on, being raped when I was 15, and sexually assaulted more times than I can count. My self worth became tied to what I was worth to someone sexually. And it didn't feel like a big deal, when that worth became what someone would pay for me. It's interesting to look back, because while my self worth was further destroyed by being involved in the sex trade, and the experiences I had with clients, there was also a level of empowerment because I could finally pay my bills, and much more. I got so caught up in the life and in the lifestyle. That's one thing that people forget about. They tend to focus on the quote unquote, sex for money part. And with that comes a lot of judgment, stigma, morals, religious leanings, etc then thinking that everyone must want to leave the trade and if they do, it will be easy. Just like that, you can just get out no big deal. It's not. It's not like that at all. I was addicted to the money I made and the power I felt I had, even while most of my money was taken by the agency, the driver, and the experiences that I had while working with clients were sometimes violent, humiliating. And certainly part of dealing with some issues that I still have with how I feel about myself and the relationships that I have with people in particular partners. With all that to this day, I still have temptations about going back to it. And I've been out of it for more than 12 years. So after returning to the city, to immense pressure from my family, who found out what I was doing, through a boyfriend that outed me. So I was pressured to move back to the city. And they gave me an ultimatum about leaving. I said, I left, but I hadn't, I went back, because again, I needed the money. And at this point, I felt like, this is what I know how to do and I want to keep doing it to a certain extent. So I did go back and found another agency in the city I was living in. And it was much easier. This time, I had more clients living in the city, that kind of thing, variety of clients, young, old, any color, everything in between. And what's interesting, I would like to tell this part is that I actually had to go get a license to be an escort in the city. So while it was technically illegal, in order for me to work, the city had to, I had to pay the city money to get a license to work. And I remember there was a police raid once. And it wasn't about protecting or figuring out, you know, are the people being trafficked or exploited in this situation, I was just told, make sure you have your license, they're just checking to see if people have their licenses. They're not doing anything else. So how I left is actually a very boring story. Because I was back in the city, I was able to find a job that paid well enough that I could meet my basic needs. And what I found was that it became impossible to work during the day, full time and also work at night in the sex trade. And so over time, I started seeing less and less people. And eventually, I felt like I had enough that I could leave. But it, that was really it. It was only because I was able to find a decent job. And even then, there were so many times that I was tempted to go back because I was making just enough to pay my rent, but I couldn't keep up the lifestyle that I had before. So if I think of what I would say to my younger self, and all of this is that it's okay. You made the choice that you thought you had to make. And I am who I am because of the experiences that I've had. And part of what has led me to working in this field is because I have this experience. So while I haven't been trafficked. And I wasn't sexually exploited in terms of what we would legally call sexual exploitation. Knowing what it's like to work in the sex trade and having that peer experience is very different than other people who might come to work in this field and don't have that experience or don't have that direct knowledge. That there's something to be said, knowing what it's like to meet a client for the first time when you open the door, to experience violence from a john, to be exploited by the people that are supposed to be protecting you. To have a slew of toxic and abusive relationships even after leaving, because I still felt that my self worth was tied up in my sexual, what I could provide sexually, or how attractive I was, etc. I would describe myself now, as a thriver, I very much went through the feeling like I was a victim, feeling like I had survived and barely survived. And now I feel like I'm at the point that I am thriving, but it's taken a really long time. But I am there, and I'm doing well. And I've been working in the nonprofit sector for more than a decade, and have worked in a variety of positions, supporting people from all walks of life, and most recently, in this field, in particular, working in the anti trafficking and anti sexual exploitation field. So it has come full circle. And for that I'm very, very grateful.
Hello, my name is Jessica and I was trafficked and sexually exploited at 17 years old. My situation was very coerced, manipulated, controlled. I was vulnerable at 17. I come from a very small town and this town is a huge hockey town. And what had happened was, there was a lot of different people that came in to our town to play on hockey teams from all over the country. And I had met a hockey player who was kind of like, the person you wanted to be with on the team. He was the best player. He had the parties, he had everything supplied everything. And I thought that dating him was the best thing I could do at 17. And we started dating. Before we started dating, though, I was sexually assaulted by his teammates, I was raped by two of his teammates. And I came to find out that it was something that was being talked about in their locker room. And it was something that the coaches knew what was happening. And this was something that these hockey players were doing to multiple girls that were hanging out with them. And I kind of felt like I was like a checkbox. It was like they were checking a boxes off. After I started dating my player. There was obviously other people he was with as well. And I had found this out and I remember going to his billet house and being like, I can't do this anymore I'm worth more and he ended up hitting me and bringing me down into his room at the his billets house. And he ended up calling me incredibly awful names and kept telling me I owed him and he kept saying you owe me, you owe me because you slept with my teammates and me being absolutely vulnerable and I did love him, I will admit that I loved him. I started to do things for him because I couldn't imagine not being with him. At first I started running drugs for him around the community. And then whatever he did, he told me how to dress he told me how to like the people to hang out with what I was doing. I was volleyball, basketball, soccer player in school, and I also figure skated, I completely stopped doing all of that. I totally got isolated from all of my close girlfriends, my family, I started fighting with my family, my close friends, my life really, really became him. But eventually the season ends. And eventually all of these players go home and I could not imagine him not being in my life. So he left and I decided to get on a bus and go into Manitoba and be with him. And a lot of times I get the question of like, Where was your family and why wasn't anybody like worrying about you? You were 17. My player sat at my table with my family. My player knew my whole family. My player stayed for holidays at my, you know, family gatherings. He knew everybody in my family and he also, they really liked him. They had no idea that any of this was going on. So once I got into Manitoba, it was really great for about two weeks and then I started to owe him again. And something that I found out once I was away from my home was that his father was involved, and so was he, involved in an incredibly high organized gang and they exploited women and children and men and everyone. One thing that I remember, and it still blows my mind today is that they kind of prided themselves on not exploiting children. So the way I was introduced to this was from my trafficker's friend Nicole, who I identify her as my recruiter, I guess, sort of my mentor into that lifestyle. She kind of taught me how to do it, and how to approach things. But one thing is, was I was never used as, they never exploited children. So I was a fetish girl. So what I mean by that was a fetish girl was I was bought from johns, with certain fetishes. And I wasn't actually allowed to have sex with these people. I knew what would happen when you turned 18. You get to know a lot of people in this lifestyle, you get to know what's going on, you get to know a lot of gang members, you get to know a lot of high businessmen, you get to learn that everybody is a john, you know, there's people in very authoritative positions buying you, there's every walks of life are buying you. I knew when I turned 18, which was coming close, that I was going to be sold and put on the circuit and probably sold all around Canada. And there was a time in my life because it got very violent. The johns got very violent, my player got very violent. I'd seen what was happening to other girls that were older than me, and what their consequences were, if they didn't do certain things. That's something that will stick with me forever. I've been out of that for almost 17 years. And I still hear the screams of those individuals that maybe didn't do what they were supposed to. I was forbidden to go downstairs of the house that we were in, but I knew what was going on downstairs. And that's where those kind of screams will always stay with me. I knew that this wasn't good. I knew it. I knew that this wasn't me. I knew that this isn't the life that I wanted. I just did not know how I was going to get away from that. It's funny because I think in my head, like I was still going to high school at the time, and I was crossing borders. But my trafficker and my traffic family had taught me how to talk to people. So when I talked to customs officers, I knew exactly what to say. When I talked to any authority figure, I knew what to say. I always felt like they were two steps ahead of everybody. I can remember literally coming home to Fort Frances, and manipulating and lying to my parents so much. And then getting back on that bus and going back to work for a few days. And then coming back. I always thought that was interesting, because I did cross the borders quite often. Anyways, I know that within the game, you do meet people, as I said, and there was just one man that said to me, you're too good for this, Jessica. You're very kind, you know. Why are you here? You're so young, and so on and so forth. After a very violent date, I didn't think I was coming back from that date, I thought I was going to lose my life that night, I knew that I had to get out of there. And I can remember going to what we called the Galaxy it's kind of where everyone gathered, I remember going there and like taking anything I could to take that pain away. And I remember that was the time that was the moment that I knew I had to go home. So probably two days later, I end up, my player was out doing his thing. And I was left at the house. And there was a Mac store like a 711 like kind of kitty corner to where we stayed. And I can remember going there. And I remember begging a man for money, I wouldn't have a cell phone there was just pay phones. And I remember calling home and being like I need to come home. I need you to be at this spot at this time. And I hung up. And the person that I called, I didn't know if they got the message. I didn't know if they knew where to be. I didn't know. I didn't know. So this constant anxiety and this constant like walking on eggshells was so extreme. The anxiety was so extreme. And I didn't know how I was going to get there. I didn't know how I was going to get to the place that I told them to pick me up. So what happened is that night at the Galaxy, I ended up telling the guy that I trusted somewhat, that would tell me that I was too good for this, I need to go home. I told him what I had done. And I can remember him getting up from the table and not saying a word to me. And again, it was days of anxiety because I didn't know what he was going to do. I didn't know if he's going to go to my player. I didn't know if he was going to go to other gang members. Or I didn't know if he was going to help me. And I still remember the day I was sitting at the bawdy house and this red car had come and it was him. And he said to me, "You have three minutes." And I remember getting a flip flop on my foot and like another shoe and an empty wallet. And I remember just running to the car and he brought me home. Sorry it gets me emotional right here because he didn't have to do that. And I always think in my head, like he was my hero that day. Like as bad as that person is and what he does, he brought me home. He brought me to where I had to be. I was home. I can't say that I was safe, because you always have that they're gonna come for you, right? Or they know where I live, my player knew where I lived, my player knew everything about me. And I always thought he's gonna come, he's going to come. And that probably stayed with me for years, for years. And going back to high school, there's people that are getting ready for prom and getting ready for graduation. And here I am dealing with 60 plus rapes or sexual assaults that I'm dealing with. And I never told anybody, I didn't tell a soul for a very, very long time, I didn't tell them what had happened to me. I didn't tell my parents what had happened to me. I kept that a secret for many, many years. And then I finally started my healing journey. And I got the help that I needed. And I did many years of healing myself and the experiences that I had been through. The one thing that I always think, though, is what had helped me was going back to my culture and my roots of my indigenous cultures. That's what helped me. Ceremony helped me, reaching out to my elders helped me, that got me where I am today. I also think that we talked about this doesn't ever go away. My trafficker was killed three years ago now. And that turned into a huge nother thing that I had to deal with. And the reason being is I don't think I ever got that moment, or that time to tell him the innocence he took from me or what he had done to me. And I was really angry, I went really into a depressive situation, and I was not okay, when I found out that he had passed, then again, it just, it's just all continuing that healing journey, continuing being strong and resilient. And it's going to be something that shaped me that shaped me to who I am today. This is why I do what I do. And this is why I helped individuals that I helped because I know what it is to be in that chaos, and I know what it is to be manipulated, and completely controlled. I always think if I could tell myself, my younger self something, it would be listen to your gut instincts. It would be that it's okay, it's okay to use your voice, I guess is what I'm saying. It's okay to find your voice. Use your voice. And it's actually crucial to teaching people how to say no, and that this isn't going to happen to me or just being able to say no, I think is something that I want to teach my younger self or young children or my own children. Something I think like the nurse said, that's unique about a situation is I was not a person ever that you would think would have end up in this situation. I came from a very upper class family. And I very much so was involved. And I had, you know, a great childhood, it was just meeting that person and completely letting him control me for a few years. That got me into a situation that was incredibly hard to get out of. I know in my story it sounds like you know, I just was able to leave at this there was so much that led up to that, to being able to leave. I would describe myself as a fighter now, I was victimized, I survived through it, and I went through the motions for many years of just living day to day life and trying to figure out who I was as a person trying to heal from all those traumas and trying to figure out who I could trust. Trust is a huge thing for me, it's very hard for me to trust people. But now I fight for individuals that might not have found their voice yet. I bring awareness and prevention and advocacy for those that might need it.
Elvira Truglia 24:06
Thank you. Thank you, Jessica.
Fay Faraday 24:07
Yeah, it's important just to take a moment and let those stories settle, sink in, right? There's so much there to absorb and to recognize and reflect on. It's so powerful to hear your stories and to really understand how these are things that you can slide into from routes that are just so normal, but also how it doesn't end. It's not like there's a clean break at any point and it's a constant journey.
Thunder Shanti Narooz van Egteren 24:47
One of the things I was thinking about while you were telling your story, Jessica, is and I know you alluded to this, but I'm wondering also because you didn't you didn't say what had happened to you for a long time and you weren't telling your story. And then there was a time when you felt that you were able to do and that you'd healed to that point. So why is it important to tell your story? And why do you share your story?
For me I share my story. Because once I did my healing, I felt like I had my voice back, I felt like I knew who I was now. And I felt like I did not want anything like that to happen to anybody else. I thought by sharing my story that brought awareness, and I sometimes feel that people identify with experience better. So I wanted to really use my experience to help others to understand like, I understand, like, I truly do understand, and I found my voice, and I needed for people to hear my voice. And I do find healing within sharing my story.
Thunder Shanti Narooz van Egteren 25:58
It's interesting that you say that, because I'm finding the same. So this is actually pretty new for me to share. There are very few people in my life that know and know what happened, and especially know what led to that, and what some of the experiences were specific experiences that I had while I was working. And part of it is about reclaiming strength for me, and taking back some of that shame and blame and guilt that was put on me, because I think that our experiences are so different. But at the same time, just being in the sex trade in any capacity, there are people that are going to blame you. Regardless, they're going to say you did this, you did something you were drunk, you were whatever, right? Part of sharing my story is trying to take some of that back and say that I don't need to live under that cloud anymore. And this is not something to be ashamed of that it is just part of my experience. And if there's anything that I might be able to do to prevent other people from entering into the sex trade for whatever reason, or work towards prevention for people that are being victimized, and hurt by perpetrators, and by purchasers, etc. And maybe this can be a small part of it.
It's so important to like, you know, let that go. And I think that's really truly about a lot of the work that I do is teaching and giving tools to individuals of how to let that go, let that shame go, let that guilt go and how we do that. And that's important to me. So I love that you said that. So when you decided that you were going to call the escort agencies, what made you want to do the escorting like, Did you think that was the most safe way? What made you pick escorting?
Thunder Shanti Narooz van Egteren 27:38
Honestly, it was because of the TV show that I saw. Secret Diary of a Call Girl. I thought it looked so glamorous and I did think it would be safer. I mean, I had this idea like most people do. And I'd seen people when I was growing up in the city, I'd seen people you know, on the street corner, and that kind of thing. And was led to believe that that's only people who are addicted to drugs that are there. That's people who are homeless, that's people who are down and out. That's people who have made bad choices and that kind of thing. So there was also this part of me that thought this is better than that. I'm better than that in some way. I know that all of that is false. But that's how I was thinking at the time. So I went into it thinking I'm going to be safe, they're going to help me they're going to screen people I'm going to make all this money, I you know, I only have to work three times a week and this kind of thing. And that was really what motivated me was honestly, that show. And so it is alarming to a certain extent, you know, all the other things that have come out since even reality shows and other movies and TV shows and things that we hear in music, etc, that make this seem easy and glamorous. And you can make a ton of cash. You know, I know that there are more and more youth who are getting involved on their own, and don't necessarily have an exploiter or a trafficker or a pimp or that kind of thing. Maybe they do have a mentor that's helping them set up their Only Fans account. Or maybe it's a friend who told them about it or that kind of peer recruitment. But that's important to note as well that all these different experiences can be motivated by similar things. And so for me that was so impactful. It was just watching that and thinking like, Oh, I could do that. Frankly, I am already having sex with a lot of people and well what if I just get paid for it? I think that'll be cool and fun and and and right. Now I I know I've said this before, and our experiences are so different, right? And so they are still within that spectrum of involvement and still having been in the sex trade, but even keeping that in mind. There's this almost this instant understanding with other people that have had some sort of involvement and I find that so interesting because as I feel more comfortable sharing my story and talking to people, I feel that I almost feel it physically, like, Oh, thank god, you get it. Like, I don't have to work so hard to try to explain this, you just get it? Or have you had that same kind of experience? And what do you think that's about?
I 100% agree with you. I always call them like my survivor sisters, because it's so true. You can talk to individuals, and they understand you, you have this like connection that you can't really describe. It's so relieving when you say like, I don't have to explain it to you. And that's something that I always, sometimes do get frustrated with, because a lot of people will be like, they have questions about well what is human trafficking? I always think, you know, it's not my job to educate you. It's your job to educate you. If you need my support, any questions, please ask me. But I do find that they really want like the gritty stuff, if that makes sense. They really want the detail of stuff. And sometimes I think, I don't know the trauma, they want the trauma, they want the experience, and they really want to know detailed things. And sometimes that does catch me off guard. But when you talk to others that like understand that lifestyle. You don't have to explain anything to me. I don't need any detail. I know how it is, right?
Thunder Shanti Narooz van Egteren 31:24
Yeah, and sometimes I feel like a sideshow. One of the main questions that I get asked is like, Who were the customers? And again, there's this, this idea of, it's this type of person, it's an older white male. And they're preying on young, pretty girls. And not to say that that doesn't happen. And there are customers that are old white dudes. There's also a lot of other people that come from all walks of life, all shapes, all sizes, all socio economic backgrounds, etc, that are buying. And then after that question is they want the details of the call and what it was like, and I'm thinking, why in the world, do you want to know that? Do what do I ask you about, you know, what's going on with whoever you're sleeping with? And it's so yeah, it's really interesting that it's almost like, it's fair game for some reason. And I just don't understand that. So you're right, connecting with people who are not asking those kinds of questions is refreshing and in a way relieving.
Elvira Truglia 32:41
This would be a good moment to open it up, and we can have a conversation all together. Thinking about what you just said, Thunder and Jessica, there's so many things that that popped into my mind. You know, one of them - when Thunder was speaking and thinking back to some of the conversations we had with some of the advocates, one person in particular was talking about if she was going to summarize what are the the common factors that lead to exploitation or trafficking, the two she summarized was that it's usually related to poverty and trauma. That those were the two key ingredients. But I think we heard from listening to your stories that it's even more complicated than that, because the way you described it Jessica, poverty doesn't even have to be in the equation. I'm really connecting to the fact that you said that you were 17. And I'm thinking about the vulnerability of teenagehood. And as the mother of a teenager, that's something that just really stood out in what you were saying. So I was wondering if you could both comment on that, because you know, you were 19, Thunder, but still in that teenage period. What can you say about teenagehood, that that makes it a time that, that you could be vulnerable to that kind of experience? And maybe as a follow up, like, as a parent, what do I need to know? If I were to have a conversation with my daughter? What should that look like?
Thunder Shanti Narooz van Egteren 34:09
That's such a great question. And I sometimes look back at myself at 14 and 15. And, you know, think, what could I have said, What could I have done? Or what could the people in my life have said or done? to assist me and kind of what was going on. And I think for me, the biggest thing was feeling like I'd never belonged. And so that's so hard, because it's not something tangible, right? Someone can't give you belonging. And there was lots of things that I was involved in, that could have met some of those needs. And maybe they do for some people. You know, I was involved in sports and dance and music and that kind of thing. In my mind, part of what makes teenagers so vulnerable is that they are looking to figure out where they belong, who they are. And when you add in all these other risks that might be there, and you have a lack of self confidence and a lack of self esteem, you're looking to meet those needs, you're trying to figure it out. And so if someone or something comes in and is meeting those needs, even if it's negative, they're still meeting a need. And when you're talking about intangible things like self worth, self esteem, or love, wanting and needing love, wanting to be attractive, wanting to be seen as, as someone who is sexual. We know teens or young kids are having sex. Wanting that, right, and there's nothing wrong with that. But again, if that is met in such a negative way, that that can then impact things going forward. So I think for myself, one of the things would be those kind of frank conversations about sex and sexuality, and healthy relationships weren't happening in my family. I very much learned about everything I knew at the time from school. It's great that we teach sex education in school, but it doesn't go far enough, or depending on the comfort level of the teacher, etc. And I just think if I had been able to have really frank conversations, whether or not it was with my parents, or someone else in my life, and adult, even a friend, potentially, if I could have come home that day, and the next day and said I was raped at a party yesterday, this is what happened. I think that my life would have been very different. Because I see that as sort of the starting point of how it led down a road to the sex trade was again, because I felt like that was that was all I was worth. Because the worst possible thing that could have happened, had already happened to me. But I didn't make that connection till later. But I couldn't have those conversations, I didn't know who I could talk to, I didn't even really understand my experience. If we can have those conversations early in a way that's safe in a way that doesn't, you know, make it seem like it's a bad thing that you're feeling that way that you want to have sex that you want to be loved, you want to be seen as attractive, who are safe people that you can talk to. I think that that would make a huge difference.
Elvira Truglia 37:02
Thanks for that Thunder.
I completely agree with Thunder about the open communication. We need to have these conversations with our children. And we need to have that open conversation. And I agree with you too, if I had someone to tell that I was raped by two of these people, I don't know if I would have been down the same road either. I always think though, in my experience, my parents trusted me 100% and my life was very much so mapped out, this is what we're doing. This is how it's gonna go, you know, you're gonna do this. And I didn't like that and I wanted to go against those norms. I wanted to be the one to be like, I'm going to be that badass. And I did. When Thunder talked about the loving and the belonging, I started doing things at a young age, in spite of my parents. My parents were very busy people. They were always busy. They were always working, working, working, working. I can remember, you know, my dad not being there for my birthday, because he'd be working and it was fishing opener that weekend, and he would always be going up to camp to go fishing. And I remember that sticking with me. My parents loved me and I had everything, but they didn't make the time for me. And they were always working. So for me, I had a lot of free time. And I also my older sister, she had a child. And that was like the big thing like there was a baby now and this is what our focus was on. So you know, there'd be days where I maybe wouldn't even be home and no one would really even notice. So that's where my trafficker came in. I always went to him, he always gave me that love. He always gave me like, you're always welcome here. You know, you come here anytime you need to. So in my experience, it was definitely my parents did trust me and I wanted to almost defy them. And I wanted to be that badass girl, because that's not who I was supposed to be in my parents eyes, right? I was supposed to be this certain thing. And I also do think like Thunder said, that open conversation has to be had, that neutral conversation. You know, like, if my child came up to me today and said, Mom, I think that I am ready to have sex, then I'm gonna be like, okay, let's sit down and let's make sure you're taking care of yourself in the safest way. Let's talk about this kind of thing. Right? And I don't think I don't think parents do have that. There's always that like, are you sure? No you're too young, or you know what I mean? Like just not having such a reaction. Right? All right, let's talk about it.
Fay Faraday 39:32
That really leads well into the question that I wanted to ask, which is that in both of your stories, you talk about how the connection between self value and sex, right? In the way that being sexualized or being in a relationship is what gave you a sense of value. And when you combine that with like, we're terrible. You're absolutely right that we are terrible as a society, in talking honestly about sex, in talking about sex as something natural and joyful, and being honest that teenagers do have sex and want to. And that it's part of growing to be interested in sex. But so we have that silence on one hand, and we have this completely hyper sexualized culture, which is getting even more so. Right. So I'm wondering, how do you break that connection of a sense of value that is tied to how someone else values us actually, right? It's very much value derived from outside. How do you how do you start to find that sense of value outside of that framework?
Thunder Shanti Narooz van Egteren 40:58
I want to say that I know the answer. But I also need to say that it's still something that I struggle with. And I think a lot of us struggle with, and how connected it is and how it has been connected, especially for women and girls. And I am trying to think back that there's two things coming to mind for me. And again, I can really only speak to my own experience, as I had mentioned that I live with ADHD, and was only diagnosed as an adult. And frankly, even when I was diagnosed was also not treated for it, because I didn't exhibit the hyperactive symptoms that are so common, I think, because I had developed coping mechanisms to deal with it. And so the focus was on my mental illness. And it wasn't until recently that I finally have started taking some medication that has literally changed my life. And so I think that for me, I can connect that. And I think that it led to those feelings of I'm different. And I keep messing up, and I'm a failure, and I'm not enough, and why don't I act like my sister, and why am I not like my parents. And so if there had been a way to deal with that, then I don't know that I would have made that connection, and actually used sex as a coping strategy. Because it became this feels good, and people want me. And so then I in that way, I felt like in that moment I belonged. So, you know, I don't think that just getting medicated for ADHD would have been the magic potion, right silver bullet. But I think that in my case, it would have helped to deal with some of those other symptoms and results that came from that and living with that. The other thing I can think of is also, like I said, in my story, I pass as straight, and I'm bisexual. So I know that this is changing and I love to see that. I love seeing how people are so much more comfortable talking about their sexuality, and their gender identity, and all of that wonderfulness that comes with all of that. At the same time, I still think that there's work to be done. I've known for such a long time that I'm bisexual, but again, didn't feel like I could say it. And I wonder again, if my experience would have been different. If I had been able to be open about that if I had maybe dated other people, if I didn't immediately make that connection, that, okay, I'm a woman, I'm a girl. And so I should date and should sleep with men. And that's just the only way and this is how it should look, which resulted in, you know, some some negative and violent experiences. So not to say that that wouldn't have happened if I was seeing women as well. But I just don't know, I see it as all wrapped up in it. So you know, not only being open about sex itself, but also having those conversations about sexuality and about orientation and identity and feel like you can be who you are, and that it's safe to be who you are. And then you may not necessarily go looking to have those needs met in other ways.
Fay Faraday 44:10
In both of your stories, there was this resonance around how getting a sense of self worth came through being in a relationship being sexually attractive to someone. How did the hold that that had on you, how did that start to break down? Like how did you start to get a sense of self worth that wasn't tied to being in that relationship?
Oh, that's a hard question for me. Because I did struggle with the loss of that relationship. When I came home. I really really did mourn the relationship with my trafficker for quite a long time where I was tempted to go back and I was tempted to go and see him to see if it could be better. I think that started though, when I started to do my healing and starting to connect back to who I was, and also how I always say I was finding my voice, but doing the things that I loved again, you know, playing those sports, again, connecting with people that I hadn't connected in a long time. But in my situation, it was so unique, because I was also hiding a huge secret. So there was times when I really, really did feel that I was like, not being real. When I was kind of like fake, I was putting on the smile, right? And I was trying to be like, who I was before, I ended up going to Manitoba, and being this like soccer superstar and this person, but I so wasn't that person anymore. So I think when I started to break down that relationship with my trafficker, and do my healing, and getting back into the things that I loved, and I was also very much so raised, like you don't have sex until marriage, when I realized that it's okay to have sex, if you are respecting, and that person is respecting you, if that's a healthy relationship, that is okay. And once I started identifying with like, sex doesn't have to be violent. Sex can feel good emotionally, mentally, physically. And when I started being okay, with relationships, I didn't date or was with anyone for a very long time after I had come home. But when I found someone that actually loved me, and actually made me feel love. I've only ever felt conditional love and I have never, ever felt that unconditional love. And that's what kind of switched it for me when I felt that love. Like, even with my family wise, I always felt like I had to do something or be someone that I wasn't in order to be loved. Right. So when you feel that sense of that real love, that was a game changer for me,
Elvira Truglia 46:54
That kind of connects to something that I've been burning to ask both of you, because you both mentioned what it would have been like if you had someone that you could have talked to at the time. And now you're both that person that people can talk to - you're frontline workers who support survivors. So I just wanted to ask, like, how does your experience influence your work, and maybe also, at that time, when you were going through the experience, were you able to connect with anyone that was helpful, any service provider, any support agency?
Thunder Shanti Narooz van Egteren 47:34
I didn't connect with anyone with regards to that. So with regards to working in a sex trade, because of needing, you know, needing to get food or that kind of thing, I would have been reaching out to other agencies, but I didn't think that I could talk to them. And, you know, because it wasn't specific to that, and I was I was worried about what they would say. And like I said, at the time, it was sort of technically illegal for me to be doing this anyways. And I was afraid they would turn me in or something like that. I was also living in a small town, and there was very few support agencies there. And the ones that were there, you know, it's a small town, people people know each other. And so I don't think I would have felt comfortable either speaking up, because I didn't want so and so to know about it, I didn't want you know, my professors at college to know about it, I didn't want friends to know about it, and that kind of thing. But I think when I moved back to the city, I had I had started exiting at that point. But I did reach out to an agency and a women's center there. And they were hosting a session about sex work. And there was someone from another agency there who that they support sex workers current and former ones specifically. And that was the very first time that I said the words, I am a former sex worker. And that was huge. And I think I just started bawling. Because I was like, I finally can say it. And so I think it's so important to have the support that is really specific. It's not enough just to say everyone is welcome. You can talk about anything. That's, can I though? Can I really? I'm not so sure. So having that specific support is so important. And and so I didn't really have anyone else that I could talk to about it. And yeah, it wasn't until later that I was able to do that.
Elvira Truglia 49:25
Now you're a frontline worker, you know, how does that connect?
Thunder Shanti Narooz van Egteren 49:28
One of the things that I've been told and I I am honored that people have told me this. They've said, I can tell you anything, I can talk to you about anything and you don't get the shocked look, you don't get the deer in headlights, you don't get the this is wrong, this is bad. This is whatever you don't you don't shame me. I can just tell you anything. And I think that's incredible. Because even if it's something that I haven't experienced myself, I can still make connections to what my experience has been, and the trust that people put in me that they feel safe in my presence that they can tell me those things is incredible. And that's why I really believe that that peer part of it, so having peer support workers are an option to speak to a peer, someone with lived experience is so important, because it's the same kind of feeling. I can tell you anything, because you get it.
Elvira Truglia 50:31
Jessica, did you want to add...?
No, I totally couldn't agree more. I think that lived experience is so so needed. In my situation, I didn't identify with being trafficked for many years after either I started my healing with through the rape. I acknowledged that I was raped. And I remember just telling the person, my counselor that I was raped, and I was talking about why the two hockey players that raped me and then through our, through our journey together, I had actually slipped and said, well, when you deal with 40, plus rapes and sexual assaults, you don't know how to take or trust anybody. And that's when that started. And that's when that conversation started. And she was actually the one to even tell me the first time what human trafficking and exploitation was, and I was mind blown with that, because I always think in my head, why was I not told this at 17? at 16 at 15 at 12? Why are these conversations not happening? You know, it was something we seen on the movies that we thought that only happens in big cities and in the movies been really it's happening in our own backyard so like, Why were these conversations being had and that's where my healing started. And I started really I'm not gonna say reached out because in similar with Thunder, I was very shamed and guilt and there was no actually places that you could go and talk about human trafficking, or exploitation, or prostitution, or escorting or fetish girls, or, you know, sugar daddies there was nowhere that, and I totally agree with you, when you say, can I really talk about these things? you know, you can come in, it's a safe space. But is it truly a safe space? Right? I think that there needs to be survivor led safe spaces. But also knowing that those safe spaces, you don't have to come there and just divulge all your trauma, come there and hang out, come there and have a cup of coffee, you know, come in there and like, let's talk about like, if our day was shitty, or if, if our day was great, you know, like, that's just be who we are, instead of like, you don't have to come here if you're in a crisis, or if you are, please come here. But I'm pretty cool. And I'm really great to hang out with. So let's just have some coffee and talk about our day.
Elvira Truglia 52:51
Did you want to comment on how you connect your experience to the work that you do?
I will talk about my experiences, sometimes a lot of times people know now, because I am from a small town. And I have done a lot of work in the United States and Canada. So a lot of people do know of my experiences. So they'll ask questions, I don't really ever really bring it up in my work unless my client wants to know something, or we talk about it. But same as Thunder, so many people have said, you're just so easygoing, you're so easy to connect with, like, I love coming to talk to you, and thank you for helping me and like, I do a lot of land based stuff. So and that's when a lot of stuff comes out, you know, we'll be at the water or we'll be, you know, doing something, and a lot of stuff will start to come out. And we just really all have a conversation about it. You know, it's not, I think my experience has helped because just like Thunder, I don't know if there's a whole lot that can make me go, oh my god, you know, it's more or less like, okay, you know, and I do identify with people that way.
Fay Faraday 53:56
I want to ask one more question. I am thinking about the ways in which doing the work can also be empowering. I mean, we don't have honest conversations about the complexity of any of this space. As someone who has had lots of sexual violence, I know that having a sense of control in that space of being, can't be shocked sort of thing gives a sense of power. There's the money, there's other experiences that do give it a sense of empowerment. And I'm wondering if you can talk about how complex that is, right? And how that's part of what makes it difficult, because there are things that are positive, positive in the sense that they serve a need in that moment, right. Can you talk a little bit about that complexity?
Thunder Shanti Narooz van Egteren 55:01
I can say that it's it's like feeling you have one foot in both worlds or many worlds because it is so complex. So like I said there was a level of feeling empowered because I was finally able to pay my bills. I felt like I can go into the bank and I can hand them this $2,000 cash towards my debt. And literally the week before I had been I was crying in the bank to the bank teller and so I don't remember if it was the same bank teller it probably didn't matter but living in a small town there's only a few of these banks. I felt like I walked in with my head held high and it kind of didn't matter how I'd made that money because I could pay that bill and that felt really good and I did for a while feel like you know i'm i'm a badass. Jessica brought it up as well you know, in terms of even the relationship with her parents. And you know, I'm going to do this because I'm not supposed to do kind of idea, right? So even meeting that need I'm like, I'm so cool. This is something that people don't do and I'm doing it and I'm successful at it and that kind of thing. And it also met some emotional needs that feeling of well someone someone wanted me and someone responded to that and then I'm getting more calls and I have a few regulars that want to see me over and over. And so it was meeting some of those needs that I had as well it's taken a lot of years to also understand how much my self worth became tied to sex before being involved in the sex trade but certainly while I was there and unraveling that has taken so so many years and I think it's still work that I do today and so while I can see some of those positives that were there as well it's I had my foot in the other world that this was also negative and this is also something that hurt and was hard for me but certainly I think that you're right we don't often think of some of the quote unquote positives that are there and people that do consciously choose to work in the sex trade and are doing it in a way that is independent, they are safe as safe as you can be in something that's mostly illegal. You have to keep that spectrum in mind when you're thinking about this and that it is a lot of things it's not it's never just one thing but everybody's experience is going to be different.
I agree. Every experience is going to be different. I can remember being 17 and thinking I was on top of the world for a while. The clientele that was purchasing me and like Thunder had said when you get like someone who is a regular and they're purchasing you and they like say different things you kind of thrive on that and it kind of makes you like oh you know this person is a married man and he wants me and we're gonna continue to do this over and over there's some kind of like I don't know it's false sick kind of like I don't know confidence that was with many many people that false confidence where like oh I must be I must be phenomenal if this person continues to purchase me. But I also think of like the experiences I had. I travelled a lot of places that I probably wouldn't have travelled if I wasn't in that situation. I have been to some pretty amazing places and seen some pretty amazing things that I probably wouldn't have done if I didn't have that sort of money right? You do get addicted to that money though too. That's so true because there's even times now where I'm like, man I am working hard. And I can remember when I had like a lot of money in my purse and I was flying you know different all over and I don't have that now you know? I don't know I think that's probably just the mind of someone who has been in the game and you're always like it's in the back of your head it always is in the back of your head. Yeah, I think that the positive too. Now, you know I'm still really resourceful because I know how to make my money because I had to make my money first of all, and if I didn't make my money, I knew I was in trouble. The resourcefulness now. I am incredibly resourceful person. Like you need to find a treatment for a client, believe me, I will find you the best one and I will make sure everything is great because I am a resourceful person. And I'm like a mad hustler too like I can make people like I can hustle people from like, I don't know, $20 to $2 like that. And those are skills that will always go and always be there. I really love that you brought that up. It's not all negative. I learned some life skills survival skills too in that and I did love my trafficker and there was good times with my trafficker and there was good times with my traffickers family, but it wasn't a good situation because it's not all negative. And I don't want to glorify it at all. I don't want anyone there ever but I learned some skills through that.
Fay Faraday 59:51
Is there anything else that you want to say that we haven't asked about that you want to toss in there?
Thunder Shanti Narooz van Egteren 59:57
I just want to say and I am taking this from someone else. So I want to give them the credit, someone that I work with have worked with said, you know what, we really need a Prostitutes Anonymous. And I think that's awesome. Because both of us have talked about how there is still temptation, and that it is really hard to leave. And that I think this is not something that you ever fully get over and you ever fully move past, quote unquote, those kinds of things. And I just think that, wouldn't it be awesome to just get in a room and talk to our survivor sisters, like Jessica said, and have a Prostitutes Anonymous. And so I'm just going to put that out there. If anyone wants to start one, I'll be there.
I love that. That's amazing. I always think it's funny too, because I think gosh, wouldn't it be amazing to be like, from outside sort of be like the fly on the wall, because we really do have no filter. And I you've got to see me. Like I don't I'm pretty raw. I'm real. And I'm just kind of like I am who I am. Like, I'm kind of wild, I get it. That would be the best conversation. That would be the best place. That would be so phenomenal to just be able to connect and laugh because it is funny, like, even like some dark situations. It's like I would get and we could laugh about it. Right? Like we'd be like, Oh, yeah, yeah. I love that. Whoever thought of that idea, kudos to you. That's phenomenal.
Fay Faraday 1:01:18
We'll see who starts it up. I think that's a brilliant idea.
Elvira Truglia 1:01:22
So just to wrap things up, thanks so much for sharing your stories and for for doing it so candidly.
Thunder Shanti Narooz van Egteren 1:01:27
Thank you for giving us the opportunity. This has like I said, this is still pretty new for me sharing. And so being able to be able to do that. And you know, in more of a kind of public forum is also part of my healing. So thank you very much
Miigwetch for letting us do this. I'm just really grateful.
Fay Faraday 1:01:47
Thank you for making that space bigger.
Elvira Truglia 1:02:00
Deep breath. And that wraps up today's episode of The Traffik Report. Join us next time for a compelling conversation about the false divide between labour and sex trafficking.
Fay Faraday 1:02:13
If you like what you heard today, make sure to subscribe to our podcast. Also make sure to check out our website at thetraffikreport.ca. Remember, that's traffik with a K. We'll be posting the show transcript, resources and links related to today's episode. My name is Fay Faraday
Elvira Truglia 1:02:32
And I'm Elvira Truglia. In today's episode you heard from Thunder Shanti Narooz van Egteren in Halifax, and Jessica in Northern Ontario.
Fay Faraday 1:02:42
This episode was produced by Elvira Truglia and Fay Faraday. Our theme song "I'm Not Alone" was created by youth at PLEA Community Services Society in British Columbia. This podcast is made possible thanks to the financial support of the Canadian Women's Foundation.
Elvira Truglia 1:02:59
Thanks for listening to The Traffik Report, speaking truth to power on sex and labour trafficking. Until next time.