By Andraya McMaster
When I was in grade ten, I met a woman different than any other woman I had known. She was living on the streets, addicted to cocaine, trading her body for a fix and a roof over her head. But when I met her, I did not know this. All I knew was that she was beautiful and I liked her. She began to briefly tell me her story; how she came to the city from her native reserve, and the progression of events that landed her on the streets. I grew up in a Christian home where I had taken for granted the immense privilege of a loving father. Up to that point, I didn’t even have a grid for sexual abuse which so often precedes prostitution and exploitation. But instead of it repelling me, her story gripped me and has never let me go. Suddenly on that autumn night, my heart took a new form, creating space for sexual violence to be acknowledged and met with compassion. My heart swelled with more depths of loving care for that woman than I knew I had in me. Perhaps, in fact, she expanded my capacity to love. I never saw her again, but she had changed my life forever.
What followed was not something I expected. Everywhere I went, I found myself consistently drawn to various forms of resources on sexual exploitation. It was like an outside force compelled me into finding them and feeding myself with them. The more I learned, the more my heart stirred. During my grade eleven psychology class, I made a presentation on the North American Sex Trade. For a long while preceding the presentation, I had believed I was going to become a medical doctor, but on that day before my classmates I found myself proclaiming that I was going to spend my life working on behalf of the sexually exploited. I surprised myself when I said it, but nothing seemed truer. My heart has yet to have been so moved by something. I couldn’t understand how I could do anything less. My whole life took a new direction that day, when I knew with utmost confidence that I would one day become part of some of the greatest miracles I’ve ever known.
“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.” – Henri Nouwen.
These stories of the sexually exploited continue to profoundly activate the compassion within me. Sometimes I have nowhere to place all the feelings except for at the feet of Jesus. I am now a college student getting a degree in Human Services with a focus in Counselling. Soon I will truly be able to embrace these people in a more full and meaningful way. For now, I am on the outside. I am longing in the depths of myself to get started.
There are so many veins in the combatting of sexual exploitation, for it is so complex. Personally, I want to be part of the aftercare; profound, holistic and true healing. I understand that this is, of necessity, an extensive process that I am committed to being a part of. None of this do I take lightly. Thinking about it is scary sometimes, yet incredibly exciting. Perhaps you feel overwhelmed with the darkness of this reality in our world, but there is a steadfast hope in which my heart is anchored. It causes me to believe there can be deliverance and atonement for all who are involved in sexual exploitation and believe in the abolition of the industrialization of sex. Rob Morris, president of an anti-trafficking organization called Love146, once said, “Ending human trafficking is not idealistic or naïve. It’s audacious. And it is people of audacity who change the world.”
This audacity cannot be carried out by a small number. Prostitution and trafficking rings are vastly and intricately networked. We must be even more so. And if we continue to feed our sexual appetites, they will only expand like a wealthy man’s stomach, making a trafficker’s job easy. Every great accomplishment comes with great sacrifice. But come, join me in changing the world. You don’t have to dedicate your life to this – it is a costly order; but don’t be naïve or ignorant. At least learn to deal with your sexuality. I believe sex was meant to be pure and good, but when it permits the exploitation of a fellow human, we have something devastatingly wrong. We all have a part to play. Be the man in your house who will protect your women and girls. Be the woman in your workplace who knows her worth and won’t stand for objectification. Become a person of courage whoever and wherever you are.
I believe in a near-future Canada that loves our people. Let’s become a nation that defends the vulnerable and facilitates justice for the formerly forgotten. Let’s become a generation known for our proactive movements on behalf of those for whom we have compassion, so that the generation following us is marked by freedom. We can become one of the leading nations for justice, dignity and beauty – where all our people are safe and thriving. The dictionary defines audacity as, “boldness or daring; especially with confident or arrogant disregard for personal safety, conventional thought, or other restrictions.” Canada, let’s be a nation of audacity.