Montreal's first shelter for victims of sexual exploitation set to open
One of the facility's counsellors is a former teen sex worker
The first long-term shelter for victims of sexual exploitation will open this week in the Montreal region, providing a stepping stone for survivors who are trying to reintegrate into society.
Opening Friday, the new facility will have a full-time counsellor on site and another that will visit on an ad hoc basis, helping victims rebuild their lives.
That visiting counsellor will be Maylissa, who was involved in the sex industry from the ages of 15 to 17 and is now a married mother of three.
She says she wants to help fellow victims of sexual exploitation to escape the industry.
"You experience the worst of men," Maylissa told CBC. "The man is in a position of power and … you're just not experiencing healthy relationships."
CBC has agreed to withhold her last name because she fears intimidation and harassment.
Maylissa says the goal isn't just to give residents food and shelter, but also a sense of belonging.
"We all need to belong to a community and this is what we're building. We're building a community of people from all walks of life, that are saying, 'We're for you, we're with you, we love you, we want you to get out of this.'"
Providing residents with a 'new beginning'
She found she wasn't able to make ends meet as a waitress. To supplement her income, she worked part time for various escort agencies over a five-year period.
Now 40 years old, she said some agencies rented a shabby hotel room for her to work out of whereas others had her travel with a driver, day and night.
"At one point, after a night that was not pleasant at all — it was really rock and roll — I looked at myself in the mirror and said to myself, 'I can't do this anymore,'" Chantal told Radio-Canada.
Chantal managed to get out of the industry in a time when there were few resources to help victims of sexual exploitation.
Now, she said, this new lodging facility will provide a "new beginning" where residents will "be able to reach their full potential."
Lodging for 5 women
The shelter will be only be able to accommodate five women for now due to a lack of funding, but the hope is to triple that number in the near future, says Ronald Lepage, executive director of The Way Out, the non-profit organization behind the initiative.
The Way Out, working in collaboration with health and social services, offers Quebec-based victims of sexual exploitation a range of services such as a drop-in centre, individual follow-up, skill development and social reintegration assistance.
According to the organization's website, sexual exploitation victims are traumatized by abuse, stigmatized by society and often suffer from mental health problems, homelessness and addiction.
It estimates there are some 4,000 men and women, aged 12 to 25, currently engaged in Montreal's sex industry.
Montreal is a sex tourism hot spot, the organization's site states, with an estimated 200 illicit massage parlours, 65 strip clubs and 38 escort agencies.
With files from Radio-Canada, CBC's Antoni Nerestant