Escaping sex trafficking can seem impossible, survivors say — but young women trying to do so now have a safe space in Toronto to live.
Covenant House Toronto has opened a transition house for women and girls trying to get out of sex trafficking and "reclaim their lives", the organization's executive director Bruce Rivers said.
The house, called The Rogers Home, has space for seven women, all of whom can live there for up to two years.
The women will be between 16 and 24, will have private bedrooms and bathrooms, and will live with a "house mother" who's had similar life experiences, Rivers said.
Residents will have access to free legal services, life skills training, counselling and addictions treatment.
'Such a scary world'
Casandra Diamond said she wished this program had been around when she was younger.
Diamond spent 10 years in an abusive relationship with a sex trafficker. It was only after she got out of the industry that she realized that he'd exploited her.
"I really thought he was my boyfriend who loved me," said Diamond, now a member of Covenant House's sex trafficking advisory committee.
"It's so manipulative and deceptive, and somehow always gets flipped back onto you."
At that time, Diamond said there were no resources and nobody she could talk to. This transition program, however, will be invaluable to young women facing similar situations — and looking at how they can safely leave, she said.
"It takes a long time for an exploited girl to start to feel safe and to truly believe that her trafficker isn't somewhere around the corner," said Diamond.
"It is such a scary world."
On the rise
Rivers said that sex trafficking is a growing issue in Canada; in the past year, Covenant House Toronto saw a 40 per cent jump in cases of trafficking and sexual exploitation.
Covenant House said that Canadian girls as young as 13 are being trafficked, with the average age being 17.
The agency is fundraising for a $10-million, five-year plan to combat the issue, which includes the transition house, prevention programs at schools in the Greater Toronto Area, and research.
So far, Covenant House has raised $8.8 million. The City of Toronto contributed $850,000 towards the transition house, and the Toronto Community Housing Corporation provided the property.