When it comes to connecting youth and people involved in the sex trade with the appropriate and necessary supports to help them, those on the front lines say timing is everything.
“Gaps in time are not friendly when folks are in crisis. It has to happen quickly, or oftentimes we lose track because people go into survival mode and they feel like they need to disappear for their own wellness,” said Susan Ayles with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia.
This is where a 10-month project comes in to roll out a comprehensive directory that connects youth involved in the sex industry, or sexual exploitation, to the appropriate resources they need.
“There’s no single agency that can meet the complexity of needs that folks are going to be having when they want to make that change and exit from the sex trade,” said Charlene Gagnon, the manager of advocacy and research with YWCA Halifax.
“So, it’s really, really important for us to all, kind of, work together,” she said.
That’s where the idea for the Trafficking and Exploitation Services System (TESS) Directory was born.
The more than 200-page directory immediately puts caregivers, support workers and parents in contact with a comprehensive guide to agencies across Nova Scotia with trauma- and sex trade-informed supports.
“All of this work is about building relationships and making sure that youth have safe and trusted adults that they feel they can talk to without fear of judgement,” Gagnon said.
The directory breaks down general information about trafficking, exploitation and sex work. It also provides information about “warning signs” that may indicate youth are at risk of being sexually exploited or trafficked.
“It feels like co-ordinated information for folks across the province so that we don’t have to do a research project every time a participant calls,” Ayles said.
The directory also includes a legend with symbols indicating which Nova Scotia agencies provide access to specialized culture, accessibility and gender services, done with direct input from communities like Mi’kmaq.
“To ensure that it’s culturally sensitive, culturally relevant and culturally appropriate,” TESS Nova Scotia co-ordinator Thunder Shanti Narooz van Egteren.
Narooz van Egteren adds that much of the directory was compiled with a focus on the disproportionate impact sexual violence and trafficking has on Indigenous women and girls.
“In terms of residential schools, there was rampant sexual abuse and sexual exploitation that was happening. So, you do see that level of human trafficking and sexual exploitation being an issue in Indigenous communities for a very, very long time,” Narooz van Egteren said.
The TESS Directory will be distributed across Nova Scotia and accessible everywhere from public schools to non-government agencies and government offices.