Nfld. & Labrador

'This is making me cry': Choices For Youth accepting donations for Big Bite Pizza victim

Members of the general public and Choices For Youth are stepping up to help a victim of childhood sexual exploitation at Big Bite Pizza in 2006.

Phoebe says she is moved by support and fundraising effort

We identified this woman as Phoebe Walker. Despite how much she wanted to use her real name, she was not legally allowed. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

A victim of childhood exploitation at Big Bite Pizza in 2006 who shared her story is getting a helping hand, thanks to the general public and Choices for Youth. 

CBC News profiled two victims of the shop's manager, Mehnad Shablak, in an article and short documentary on March 15.

One of the women is a 26-year-old mother of one, living in Conception Bay North without electricity or running water.

Due to a publication ban, we called her Phoebe.

In the six days since the story came out, a number of listeners and viewers reached out and wanted to help.

Reader outrage and sympathy

In emails and messages through social media, many viewers and listeners said they were touched by her story and were angered by the situation she's been left in.

"How in the heck is that poor child/woman left without electricity for two years?" wrote viewer June Clarke in an email to CBC News.

"Something is terribly wrong with our system when someone who has suffered for so long is still being vicitmized."

Clarke, like many others, offered her support to the victim and asked how she could help out.

Choices For Youth, who work with at-risk youth between the ages of 16 and 29, were moved to get involved.

In previous interviews, Phoebe credited the organization with playing a big role in her recovery from addictions and surviving her experiences as a teen.

For their part, the Choices staff say they were moved by the public reaction in the past week.

Adolescents were given pizza, and drugs, at Big Bite Pizza on Water Street in St. John's. Some were sexually exploited. (CBC)

"The positive support shown by our community in response to this story speaks to our shared belief that everyone deserves to be safe," said staff member Ayon Shahed. 

"To be protected from abuse, to be heard, and to be given the support and opportunities they need to succeed in life."

Anyone looking to help out can do so at the Choices For Youth website on the donations page. While filling out the required fields, mention Phoebe's name in the messages section. 

Emotional response

Phoebe, for her part, was floored by the offer and the outpouring of support.

"This is making me cry," she said. "I just wanted to help people and it's not something I'm used to — having people want to help me."

Phoebe's cooperation led to the arrest and imprisonment of two men in 2007.

The publication ban presented a hurdle, but everyone involved felt the story had to move forward. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

When she was a homeless youth, Shablak paid her in money, drugs and food to pose for naked photographs. She was also under the control of Shawn Newman, a man who was convicted of pimping Phoebe when she was 14.

Since suffering through exploitation and being forced into the sex trade as a victim of a local pimp, she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder has found it difficult to hold a job. She lives on a meagre sum from social services.

But she insists this was never about getting help for herself.

"I just wanted to be able to open people's eyes and make them think if they walk past a child downtown, 'Are they OK?'" she said.

"And if someone wanted to get out, [to] know that there is a life after the trauma."

About the Author

Ryan Cooke works for CBC out of its bureau in St. John's.