K. grew up in an alcoholic home in a small, rural Northern Ontario town where she had very little social support.
She first tried drugs at age 12, and by 15 she was a full-on addict and used drugs every day. That's when she started to sell sex to support her habit.
By age 20, she was in a very dark place. K. had just moved to the GTA, where she was homeless and knew no one — in other words, vulnerable.
She got to know some men who met her every need and showered her with compliments and presents.
“It's like you hit the jackpot, you're in a movie and met this person who's finally going to take care of you,” said K., who does not wish to publicly reveal her name or where she grew up.
She shared her story Mar. 17 at a conference on sex trafficking (also known as human trafficking) for social service agencies which was organized by Greater Sudbury Police and Sudbury and Area Victims Services.
After a while, the men who'd befriended K. after her move started to withdraw their attention, manipulating her into wanting to get back to that “honeymoon” stage.
“So now you're in the state where I will pretty much do anything to please him, so he'll bring up working in the sex trade,” she said.
That's how K. ended up being the victim of trafficking, a situation that fortunately only lasted for a few weeks.
There's a difference, she explains, between being the victim of trafficking and being involved in sex work. With trafficking, a third party “who's manipulated you, forced you, tricked you into engaging in the sex trade,” is involved, she said.
But that isn't the case with all sex workers, who could be involved in the activity by choice.
Now 28, K. said she was involved in sex work up until three years ago.
“I would say it was because of circumstances — survival sex,” she said. “It wasn't really my first choice of things to do.”
She's now a peer support worker for East Metro Youth Services, giving presentations to raise awareness of trafficking and helping victims.
“I 100 per cent love what I do,” K. said. “If speaking and telling my story can help one person, what I went through is all worth it.”
She wants young people who might be going through some of the same experiences to know they're not alone, and there's people that can help.
Sudbury and Area Victims Services crisis response co-ordinator Nicole St-Jean said her organization helps trafficking victims get back on track by helping them access social assistance and medical services.
They'll even pay for tattoo removal — sometimes people who have been trafficked are branded with their pimp's name, she said.
People seem to have the perception that trafficking is a big-city problem and doesn't happen here, but that's not the case, St-Jean said.
“We can't quantify it — I can't give you a hard number — but we're not turning a blind eye,” she said. “I'm dealing with it on a weekly basis.”
Insp. Dan Despatie of the Greater Sudbury Police said police can lay charges against traffickers, but he says police alone can't solve the problem. That's why police work with social service agencies.
“We do recognize we are part of the solution,” Despatie said. “We are willing to get involved and roll up our sleeves and do what it takes to save these victims.”