It was with great pleasure that I and my husband attended the Freedom Gala , an event in Vancouver to raise awareness about human trafficking and provide funding to important programs. The Salvation Army has taken up the cause not only bringing the topic to BC schools but also providing a safe house for survivors of human trafficking called Deborah’s Gate . I volunteer my expertise to Deborah’s Gate and I can honestly say it is the most rewarding partnership I have encountered since my days working with the RCMP’s Victim Services program.
It is hard for most people to imagine that human trafficking even exists in their city or town, but it does. With profits from the sex trade grossing more than top corporations like Google, Nike combined, it is no wonder organized crime has stepped in en masse. The transport of girls, women and boys to destinations around this world, solely to sexually service men, is the most tragic and barbaric form of modern-day slavery. It is a lucrative business that brings predators out on the streets, into strip clubs, massage parlours, brothels and online, to find their next victim. On this night the money that was being handed out was not from low lives who want their fantasies fulfilled but from a room full of people who are willing to care about those who are trafficked.
Held at the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre Hotel, the room was a buzz with the chatter and hand shaking that accompanies such fund-raising events. There were business women and men, heads of foundations and committees, politicians, socialites, media personalities, police constables, journalists, service providers, volunteers, along with representatives from the Salvation Army programs.
People circled around a selection of silent auction items displayed to entice people to make their bids. Items that ranged from nicely designed jewellery pieces valued at $50, to a $5000 painting and up to a $20,000 vacation to Cabos San Lucas where the winners stay in a 4000 sq. foot residence that sleeps 12 people. It didn’t stop there. Even after the silent auction was complete more money was raised, with auctioneer Howard Blank helping those hands to rise up; giving just a bit more.
Member of Parliament Joy Smith greeted the audience with a short speech and an introduction to her son. Through her foundation and political work she has made it her mission to combat human trafficking, moving initiatives forward at both the community and governmental levels. I was introduced to Mrs. Smith through the manager of Deborah’s Gate and I can tell you she was very genuine and kind. She is first politician I have encountered that made me feel like she was truly present in the conversation.
For me, the highlight of the evening was keynote speaker Victor Malarek. I have read three of his books: Gut Instinct, The Natashas and The Johns. The Natashas and The Johns is an in-depth look at the global sex trade in a way that pulls no punches. Victor didn’t hold back either when it came to his speech.
He has strong opinions on the stupidity that surrounds legalizing prostitution and is clearly pissed off about the men who buy women and children along with those who sell them. It may be tough to listen to, especially for those that are not accustomed to hearing the truth. Borrowing from the Salvation Army’s slogan let me say…The Truth Isn’t Sexy.
I had intended to bring my books both of which are riddled with tags and turned down pages. Not knowing what to bring, especially wearing cocktail attire and small purse, I left the books at home. So, with a goal in mind to shake his hand and tell him how much he inspired me to get involved, I walked up with my event program and asked him to sign it. That was the icing on the cake.
Beyond the hand shaking and introductions came moments that are seared into my consciousness. The moments spent with women who know what it is like to live the nightmare of exploitation and slavery. My arms and heart open to these women and my determination to serve remains; I am blessed to work with each of them. I am touched deeply by the people I have met who work to assist these women in their quest to find a new life. A life that allows for freedom, dignity, health and autonomy to make and use their money in the service of their own dreams.
If I had the answers now as to what could make the difference I would gladly share it but human sex trafficking is a complex issue that requires the involvement of so many agencies. The goal of those who helped make this gala happen, those that serve everyday to support the programs and those who gave their money are doing what they can. My sincere thanks to the Freedom Gala Committee for putting on such an incredible evening!