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Federal funds to help women leave sex trade

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 8/8/2018 (730 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The federal government has earmarked $4 million in funding for a Winnipeg program that aims to break down barriers that keep women from exiting the sex trade.

Thanks to that funding, Moon Medicine Rising, a program run out of the North End Women’s Centre, will be able to continue operating a transitional home for sex workers that was close to being shuttered.

"We had a house that we no longer had funding for. It has six beds in it, and we have two units on site, as well. So that makes eight. These were options that were not going to be available anymore," centre executive director Cynthia Drebot said Wednesday.

The $4 million in funding will be doled out over a five-year period, with installments increasing each year.

Ralph Goodale announced $4 million in funding for a program that aims to get sex workers out of the industry. (John Woods / Canadian Press files)</p>

Ralph Goodale announced $4 million in funding for a program that aims to get sex workers out of the industry. (John Woods / Canadian Press files)

In addition to keeping the transitional home up and running, the funding will also allow organizers to re-tool the existing program into something they feel will better meet the needs of the women they seek to serve.

The funding was announced Wednesday in Winnipeg, by Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale.

"(There are) issues and factors and forces that lead people into unhealthy lifestyles or put them at risk to be exploited by other people – whether that’s because of drug issues, addiction of other kinds, family dysfunction situations, poverty or joblessness," Goodale said at the North End Women’s Centre.

"You look at all of those issues, and they all need solutions. And very often the solution starts with a safe and stable place to live. That’s why the housing component here is so important."

The funding for Moon Medicine Rising is part of $35 million the feds have committed – through the Crime Prevention Actions Fund – to support 59 projects across Canada in 2018-19.

'I just wanted to die'

Jessica Pennock

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Jessica Pennock

In her darkest hour, Jessica Pennock heaved her body off Winnipeg's Maryland Bridge, so filled with guilt and shame she couldn’t go on.

Jessica Pennock

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Jessica Pennock

In her darkest hour, Jessica Pennock heaved her body off Winnipeg's Maryland Bridge, so filled with guilt and shame she couldn’t go on.

“I felt so hopeless, I just wanted to die,” she recalled.

Instead of killing her, the impact left the young mother with broken bones. The jump was one of many suicide attempts that punctuated a life of pain, as evidenced by the fading scars running up her arm.

For years, she lived in a world of addiction, abuse and sexual exploitation.

On Wednesday, Pennock stood before a crowd at the North End Women’s Centre a beacon of hope to others in the dark place she once resided.

“Don’t give up, because anybody can do it. I feel a lot of the time that, if I could do it, anybody could do it. It doesn’t matter what you’ve gone through, what you’ve been through, you can always take the steps that change your life,” she said.

Her comments came shortly after a news conference where Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale announced $4 million in federal funding for one of the centre’s programs.

Moon Medicine Rising, which is similar to the program Pennock graduated from in 2015, helps women exit the sex trade by providing them individualized support and access to transitional housing.

It is geared towards helping women living the life Pennock knew all too well in 2013, when she first walked through centre's front door.

"I was already a bit into my recovery, although at the time I wasn’t sure if I would get to parent my daughter or not. Because of my history in the sex trade, being a drug addict, and I had numerous suicide attempts, they didn’t trust that I had the ability yet to parent,” Pennock said.

While her daughter was in her custody, there was a Child and Family Services apprehension order issued, meaning, if she didn’t meet court ordered requirements, her daughter would be taken away.

When she first entered the program, Pennock said she had no self-esteem or healthy boundaries, let alone the skills needed to stay sober. Multiple attempts at getting clean and out of the sex trade -- both on her own and with the help of 12-step programs -- had failed.

“I had been sexually exploited for years as a child, and then as an adult. Twelve years in the sex trade, physically, emotionally, mentally abused and sex trafficked. I didn’t know how to live a healthy life. I don’t want to say that I couldn’t have done it (without the program), but I don’t know if I could have. Coming here really helped a lot," Pennock said.

After completing the women's centre program, Pennock was able to move out on her own, with her daughter. She then returned to the women’s centre, serving as a mentor in the program she’d graduated from.

That gave her a taste of what it was like to help women experiencing the same struggles she'd been through, which later led her to enter a child and youth care program designed for women who have left the sex trade.

Each step of the way, Pennock ran with the opportunities. After completing that program, she continued on at Red River College and eventually graduated with a child and youth care diploma.

Today, her journey has come full circle. She’s employed as an outreach worker for the North End Women’s Centre.

“I live in a nice home with my partner, my daughter who is now five, and we have a six-month daughter together. I’m (at the women’s centre) full-time. My life, I just never thought it would be this way,” Pennock said.

“It was a blessing for the centre to receive the funding. I think the North End Women’s Centre will be very – it really changed my life. It changed my life like I never would have thought and I just know it could change so many other people’s lives, as well.”

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @rk_thorpe

Goodale’s comments were echoed by Drebot, who said the funding will have a tangible impact on the lives of women in the program.

"There are some women that are homeless. There are some women that are living in very unsafe situations. There are some women who need to be in a different environment. (Transitional housing) is key," Drebot said.

"Without housing, you are stuck in making decisions. People often say everybody has choices, but people do not have choices when they don’t have a place to stay. And the choices that they make end up being connected (to the fact) they do not really have a choice."

The Moon Medicine Rising program has existed for a number of years under a different name: Women’s Support and Recovery Program. It has recently been rebranded and, with the help of federal funding, will be able to re-tool how it operates, Drebot said.

Organizers believe it will continue – if not become better – at helping women "overcome barriers to exiting the sex trade with dignity, self-determination and in an environment of respect."

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @rk_thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe
Reporter

Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.

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