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2012-06-15 at 13:08

Escaping the trade

By Jodi Lundmark,
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Bridget Perrier got her diploma from Simpson Street High.

Her major, at 12-years old, was prostitution.

Simpson Street High is not a real facility, nor does it belong to any school board. But as other children studied math and science, Perrier was learning a tough lesson on the street. 

“I was really well known in Thunder Bay on the Simpson Street strip,” she says of the stretch of road infamous for sex solicitation. “I was a moneymaker girl. A bad night for me would be making $500.”

Sexually abused by a family friend when she was eight years old, Perrier entered a group home and developed behavioural problems. With the other girls in the home older than she was, Perrier says she was eventually groomed and lured into prostitution.

By the time she was 12, she was working on the street.

Her life spiraled downwards from there. At 16, she had a baby boy named Tanner, who at nine months was diagnosed with leukemia.

The streets were her only form of support.

“Thunder Bay didn’t know what to do with me,” she says. “I was dealing with children’s aid workers who didn’t understand why I was, in their eyes, choosing to act out, which I wasn’t. It was the circumstances of a childhood trauma that led me to do this destructive behaviour.

“There was no understanding; there was just a lot of blame.”

Perrier’s life today is a different story.

She received an education, from the very real George Brown College in Toronto where she received a diploma from the school's community worker program. She also has three daughters and co-founded Sex Trade 101, an organization working to dispel the myths around prostitution and help women who want to escape the sex trade.

Along with fellow founding member and executive director of Sex Trade 101 Natasha Falle, Perrier will be speaking at an education seminar hosted by the John Howard Society Tuesday at the Da Vinci Centre called Escaping the Streets.

People need to start seeing prostitutes as victims, not as perpetrators, Perrier said.

She hopes by sharing her own story, people will see the long-lasting effects the sex trade has on women.

As Perrier got older, she became an adult offender and had no idea what she was getting herself into.

“My boy was dying of cancer. His wish was to go to Disney World. Well, I ended up in the district jail for six months,” she says.

She made a promise to her son on his deathbed to get her life straightened out.
After Tanner died, there was nothing left for her in Thunder Bay and she moved to Toronto, where she found healing within the city’s Aboriginal community.  But what changed her entire outlook on life for good was when she had her first daughter and got a second chance at motherhood.

“The day I changed my daughter’s pamper, I felt that it would kill me to see someone violate her. I made a pact that I would better myself.”

While attending college, she became involved with a man who was a single father. His daughter’s mother was living in Vancouver and one day disappeared.

“She was one of the first women that Robert Pickton was charged with murdering and I realized that was happening a lot in the First Nation communities. Women were disappearing and not given that voice,” she says.

After securing frontline work, Perrier met Falle and eventually Sex Trade 101 was born.

The two are trying to change society’s view of women working the streets from deviants to victims.

“Little girls don’t aspire to be prostitutes. It’s not something you discuss in Grade 3 when your teacher asks what you want to be when you grow up,” says Perrier.

Of the 400 women the two women have worked with, 97 per cent said they wanted out of the sex trade.

“That’s what Natasha and I want to bring to Thunder Bay,” she adds. “If they are willing to truthfully look into what is going on in their beautiful city and deal with this issue and not blame victims.”

The John Howard Society’s executive director Liisa Leskowski said they hope to gain some knowledge on how to deal with the issue in the community.

“All of us know that when we drive around certain parts of the city, we’re aware that it’s happening,” she says.

“There are very little resources and support to help women at risk.”

“We want to make sure that we, as a frontline service provider, are delivering services that help the most vulnerable and risk-prone members of our society,” Leskowski adds.

John Howard runs a housing program for men and women who have been in conflict with the law. They opened a nine-bed women’s wing a year ago and have so far housed 50 women.

Leskowski says the program is for women that have no other options.

“We provide a safe living environment and opportunities for women to make choices for moving forward in their lives,” she says.

As a community, Leskowski thinks they’re at a loss on how to address the issue.

“As an agency, because we’re providing housing, we too are feeling like where do we start? We’re hoping some of the work Natasha and Bridget have already done will help move us forward,” she says.

Escaping the Streets starts at 5:30 p.m. at the Da Vinci Centre on June 19. Tickets are $35 and available by calling the John Howard Society at 623-5355. The price of the ticket covers the cost of the event and goes towards John Howard programming and services.

On Twitter: @JodiL_reporter


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homelessteen says:
Way to go Bridget! Funny I was wondering a few weeks ago what became of you and Bobby. I am proud of you and what you have done with your life. I am glad to hear I am not the only one who got off the streets and made something of themselves.
6/15/2012 1:28:34 PM
Des says:
While the city and the citizens of Thunder Bay do not know what to do to prevent and combat prostitution, there are numerous men in the city who are keeping the trade a thriving business. Just quickly glancing over forums like the ones on International Sex Guide and this is the kind of thing you see:

“Brunette girl really fair skin and pretty skinny. beautiful face. I think another young mother making the rent. Went fullserve in a park for 40, great job."

“I'd also advise anyone to put off any trips til the end of April, early May. With all of the folks getting kicked off welfare this April, there will be a lot for girls out there, especially single moms trying to make ends meet.”

I firmly believe that by targeting those who willingly exploit the hardships of these women for their own sexual gratification, we could give the city's prostitution industry a swift kick in the ass.
6/15/2012 1:57:23 PM
anonnymouse says:
Just wondering where the proceeds go...for the ticket sales?
6/15/2012 2:09:16 PM
inmyhumbleopinion says:
"Tickets are $35 and available by calling the John Howard Society at 623-5355. The price of the ticket covers the cost of the event and goes towards John Howard programming and services."
6/16/2012 9:41:00 AM
Ranma says:
Hate to play devils advocate, but prostitution is 100% legal in Canada. Child prostitution, which the main focus of the story is, is not. If anything, those that decide to stay in the business do deserve protection, health care, etc. Those who are forced into it, need to know there are safe places to go, and that those who force them into it, will face jail time.
6/15/2012 4:10:27 PM
Des says:
I am not sure there is a concrete way to distinguish between those who "choose" to stay in the business and those who do not. I mean, if prostitution is the only alternative to poverty and paying the rent, or if it is simply to feed an addiction, or a learned behaviour from childhood sexual abuse, what kind of choice is that?
What do we do with the statistics that show a disproportionate amount of aboriginal women represented in the sex industry? It is obviously an extension of a bigger problem of poverty, abuse, and racism. Certainly not something we could morally sanction - even if the intent really is to regulate it for the safety of women.
From everything I have read, along with what I myself have learned from being coerced to work the streets as a homeless teen, I think the Nordic Model is the best route for Canada. In this model the women are decriminalized, treated as victims and offered exit strategies, and the demand is criminalized.

6/15/2012 6:25:03 PM
Ranma says:
So Des, you are saying that the government should have the right to legislate what goes on in our bedrooms? Next thing they will do is legislate whether or not same sex is legal. The government has no right to legislate what goes on in the bedrooms of its citizens. PERIOD. Sadly there are issues with poverty and racism. If prostitution is the only way for these women and men to make a living and feel that they are being forced into it because of the poor decisions they made in their life, be it addiction or other issues, then sadly that is their problem. After all how many people work a job they hate because they have bills or a mortgage or other things they have to pay for. Why does being a sex worker have such a stigma that it is bad?

The fact remains that it is a legal trade, but special interest groups have made it as a taboo profession. They have no issue with it in Nevada or Europe, Australia, New Zealand, etc. If it is regulated then nothing but good can happen.
6/16/2012 1:03:05 AM
freddyc says:
As is evident from the misunderstanding and minimizing apparent in a number of comments, the issues is helping individuals heal from the abuse and/or neglect that haunts them from their formative years. As to those who don't understand, that is those who have not had to or choose not to deal with the pain, well, it's like trying to explain compassion to the current federal government.
6/16/2012 2:05:26 PM
Des says:
The government has a responsibility to legislate against abuse, oppression, and exploitation. In the Charter of Rights and Freedoms we read that " a limit on Charter rights is acceptable if: the limit deals with a pressing and substantial social problem, and the government's response to the problem is reasonable and demonstrably justified."
Because women who make a free choice to prostitute themselves are the very small minority, and because of sound evidence to suggest fully legalizing perpetuates the problem of exploitation and abuse, the government is justified in “legislating on what you do in your bedroom.”
Kind of the same thing as the government legislating against spousal rape; not everything done in the bedroom should be legal. By legalizing prostitution you are making a statement that prostitution is a legitimate job for some women - the poor, abused, and the racially marginalized. Exploitation of the less fortunate for personal gain has never been a Canadian value, has it?
6/16/2012 4:33:44 PM
Ranma says:
But prostitution IS a legitimate profession. In countries where it is regulated, the women have health care, they have protection, and they get screened. You will always have issues with people doing human trafficing, but with legalization, there is at least a means for people to get help without fear of being put in jail themselves.

I would prefer to know that if I am going to use the services of one, that I know she or he has had check ups for STD's, has proper security to ensure that they can not be harmed, and above all else, that she is not being coerced into doing the job. If it is done properly, like so many other countries have done, the workers have a support system that will ensure that they are taken care of. With it as an illegal profession, the scum will take over as they have, and exploit these women and men to the fullest.

Does Germany, New Zealand, Australia, Neveda, and other areas that have brothels have these issues? Yes, but help and police are available.
6/17/2012 2:17:01 AM
Tim H. says:
Why is this being called a "trade"? Its not a trade, its a deviant, lazy way to try and make money to support drug habits or other poor decisions.

Trades are real jobs/careers. People sacrifice for them and put great effort into securing a trade certificate.

Prostituition is hardly that.

Its criminal. and people who engage in it need to be arrested and jailed.
6/17/2012 10:28:40 AM
unionbay880 says:
Woah, settle down.
6/17/2012 2:44:39 PM
Des says:
Acutally, Ramna, in countries where prostitution has been legalized that decision is proceeded by a marked increase in illegal prostitution as well as sex trafficking.

Think about this for a second. Who are screened in brothels? Women, not men. What happens when women get diseases? They get thrown out of the legal brothels. Do they stop prostituting? No, they work illegally. And the drug-addicted and underaged? They still work illegally, and are still exploited. Only now you have a "legitimate" industry to hide them in.

Legalization is nothing but catering to men who think they have a right to rent the bodies of women for their own personal gratification. No concerns over the power imbalances, economic disparities, hardships, coercion, and lack of choice that got the women there. They only care about themselves. Legitimizing only makes it easier on them to sexually exploit the less fortunate.
6/19/2012 10:57:49 PM
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