Cherry Smiley co-founder of Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry.

Cherry Smiley co-founder of Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry.

Speakers share how family violence leads to troubled life

Last week people living in communities in and around Williams Lake shared ideas on eradicating violence against women.

Last week people living in communities in and around Williams Lake shared ideas on eradicating violence against women.

The discussions were led by two Canadian activists who were invited by the Williams Lake RCMP Victim Services.

Trish Baptie of Formerly Exploited Voices Now Educating (EVE) and Cherry Smiley, co-founder of Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry gave three presentations to stakeholders at city hall and in the First Nations communities of Anaham, Alkali Lake and Sugar Cane.

Mick Howell, program manager for RCMP Victim Services in Williams Lake, initiated the invitation, something he said he’d been working on for about four months.

“Often the outlying areas don’t have the opportunity to have world-class speakers,” Howell said.

“We thought it would be a great idea for them to go out there.”

Baptie, a former prostitute, told the Weekend Advisor she started working in the sex trade when she was 13 years old.

“I grew up in a home rife with domestic violence,” Baptie shared.

“I worked in Vancouver, and for 10 years I worked on the Downtown Eastside. I counted some of Robert Pickton’s victims amongst my friends.”

Today Baptie works with EVE.

During her two days in the Cariboo Chilcotin she and Smiley led interactive brainstorming conversations about different forms of violence against women, particularly domestic violence, sexual assaults and prostitution.

Many prostituted women start out as prostituted children and many victims of domestic violence don’t know there can be another way to live, Baptie said, drawing on her own experiences.

Baptie said growing up with domestic violence resulted in her becoming involved with violent relationships. It wasn’t until her life changed that she understood that violence wasn’t normal.

She credited the change in her life to a relationship she formed with an outreach worker who helped her escape.

In their conversations with the communities, brainstorming sessions explored what domestic violence looks like and what a healthy relationship looks like.

Participants were encouraged to keep an eye out in their own communities to help people who are victims.

“People made it clear they knew someone or they themselves had formerly been involved in relationships that had a component of domestic violence,” said Baptie, who was impressed everyone brought something amazing to the table for ending violence against women and imagining a world free from it.

Locals also talked about doing an awareness campaign that would be directed at men participating in reading a pledge that they will not sexually and physically assault women or allow other men to do that, Smiley said.

“I heard that a couple of times and I would love to see some sort of awareness campaign come out of that.”

Smiley works as a sexual assault crisis worker and hears stories of girls 12, 13 and 14.

In the case of First Nations victims, some are even as young as 10 or 11.

“It’s a huge problem and it is one that people sometimes think will not affect them or that it doesn’t happens in their communities.”

The Nordic Model

Baptie and Smiley were in Ottawa Monday lobbying the federal government to adopt the Nordic Model in Canada as a way to tackle the sex trade industry.

The model decriminalizes the women involved in the sex trade so they don’t face criminal sanctions for the positions they find themselves in.

“We know mostly women are involved with prostitution because of poverty, mental health, addictions and colonization,” Baptie said.

The focus is then turned to the demand for paid sexual access to children’s and women’s bodies by the men who are buying it to criminalize them, she added.

“They are abusing their money and power to demand sexual access so they should be criminalized.”

Another component in the model is to provide robust exiting services for women who are leaving prostitution.

Whether it’s detox, rehab, affordable housing or a guaranteed livable income, in the Nordic model women would provided with social safety nets needed to change their lives.

“We are in a moment right now in Canada where there is going to be a change in the laws around prostitution,” Smiley said.

The Nordic model offers the best hope and the best way to support women, and the laws are going to affect everyone, she added.