Nfld. & Labrador

New program offers support for people who want to leave sex trade

The Blue Door program will provide intensive supports for anyone involved in the sex trade who wants to leave, whether it be sex workers, those being sexually exploited or traffickers.

Sex trafficking identified by advocacy group as significant issue in N.L.

Verafin's Heidi Murphy (left) and Thrive's executive director Angela Crockwell have worked to organize and fund a campaign to help sex workers leave the trade. (Paula Gale/CBC)

With many jobs, you can simply pick up the phone and say, 'I quit' when you've had enough or want to make a change. But giving up the sex trade isn't quite that easy.

The Blue Door is a new program offering help to anyone in the St. John's area connected to the sex industry, whether it be sex workers, those in exploitative situations or traffickers, and it's open to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

There's just one condition.

"The only requirement is they would like support to get out," said Angela Crockwell, executive director of Thrive, the community youth network that runs the program. 

Difficult industry to leave 

The five-year initiative is funded by the federal government, and offers intensive supports, including employment and housing services, education programs, crisis intervention, transition planning and counselling.

The program began in May, and now has eight participants as a result of outreach done at shelters, through other organizations and referrals.

When you have a trafficker or exploiter attached to somebody, it's not as simple as saying, 'I want to change.'- Angela Crockwell

While she isn't elaborating on the situations of the people already enrolled in the program, Crockwell said individuals will need different levels of support, depending on personal circumstances.

"Some people, if they've been engaged in the sex trade for a very long time, may be struggling with issues around housing, addiction, lack of other employment opportunities, low education levels, so often there's lots of challenges that prevent people from leaving," she told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.

It's not easy to leave the sex trade, experts say, and people may need support for months or even years. (Thrive)

"So we anticipate seeing people who might need three months worth of support, some might need five years worth of support."

Sex trafficking 'significant issue'

Thrive defines sex-trade activity as the exchange of money, goods, or resources for sexual services and includes all forms of sexual commerce, including survival sex — those who trade sex for food, drugs or a place to stay.

Over the past 16 years, Crockwell said the organization has identified sex trafficking as a particular concern, with a recommendation to develop an exit program included in a report the group did for the provincial government several years ago.

"While we don't have stats and data, it's certainly a significant issue for many of the people that we serve at Thrive.

"If there's a trafficker or exploiter attached to you, it can be quite dangerous for people to leave and certainly a fear for people's safety," said Crockwell.

"So it's certainly a consideration we've built into the program to think about safety planning for people, safety for the staff who are working in the program, because when you have a trafficker or exploiter attached to somebody, it's not as simple as saying, 'I want to change.'"

Community support

St. John's-based software company Verafin is organizing two events to raise money to support the initiative through its charity VeraCares — a corporate softball tournament and a walk and run to support survivors of human trafficking.

The Blue Door is the first of its kind in N.L. and is designed to support individuals, primarily between the ages of 14 to 29, mostly in the St. John's area. (Thrive)

"Our mission as an organization is to stop financial crime, and of course these crimes — drug trafficking, sex trafficking, human trafficking — align perfectly with what the Blue Door program is doing," said Heidi Murphy, chair of the organizing committee.

The Blue Door Walk and Run is happening Sept. 24 in Bowring Park.