Friday, November 23, 2012

Thoughts on Sexual Surrogacy

So it's been a while since I've posted... With the launch of a new network for anti-human trafficking in my province, The Net Alberta, and being caught in the thick of midterms... It's been a little bit hectic lately.

But this week, I came upon an article that has compelled me to write... Lucky for all you readers out there, I took some time to reflect on it rather than writing in the heat of the moment. But truly, this article has astounded and somewhat horrified me. I'd encourage you to go read it before continuing to read my post.

Let me say firstly that I am by NO means trying to say that people with disabilities don't have sexual desires, nor that they don't deserve to love and be loved. But I think this article, and those who support the idea of sexual surrogacy, go way too far in their attempt to therapeutically help these people explore their sexuality.

There are a few reasons why I think sexual surrogacy is an inappropriate and unfortunate way of dealing with a disabled person's sexual desire.

# 1. While admittedly, there are SOME women who do claim to choose sex work (as is likely the case with a sexual surrogate), as a society we need to realize that this one woman's choice is normalizing a phenomenon that for the vast majority of sex workers is nothing other than exploitative, abusive, and seriously harmful. The normalization is apparent in this quote found in the article: "The thing about the sexual surrogate that makes it different than a sex worker is they always work in collaboration with a certified sex therapist". When I originally read this, a surge of anger and frustration raced through me. Do they really think this is the only difference?! This idea pervading our culture that sex work is just another job needs to stop. The thing about the sexual surrogate that makes it different than a sex worker is that they are most likely not forced into prostituting their bodies by poverty, coercion, or organized crime. What makes it different is that they are choosing to say, "Yep, sex work is a good thing and it should be allowed to happen," while 90% of real prostituted women in Canada are desperately wishing they could leave the 'trade'.

# 2. “Our philosophy is that everybody is entitled to explore healthy sexuality, no matter what that means to them – and that means something different for everybody". How relativistic. This is the second idea pervading our culture: That there is no absolute right and wrong. It should be the natural, moral response to agree that there is right, and there is also wrong. We need to get away from this fashionable post-modern idea that everyone is entitled to what works best for them. Take for example the men who feel the need to satisfy their sexual desires by flying over to a third-world country, solely for the purpose of purchasing sex from young children. Would we say this is okay because to them, this is what healthy sexuality means? Surely not.

# 3. I was expressing my frustrations with this article out loud to my mom as I read it. She said something very significant to this effect: "Life happens, and it doesn't mean we can turn to less-than forms [ie: prostitution, an affair, pornography, etc.] of what we're really meant for [healthy sex lives within the context of marriage]. What about women whose husbands are off to war, or the husband whose wife gets cancer, or anything like that? They learn to cope with their desires not being fulfilled as often or in the way they'd like them to, because that's what love does." Having a physical disability and a harder time finding love simply just does not justify hiring an escort. What my mom was getting it is that there are plenty of other situations that prevent people from having 'normal' sex lives, and we wouldn't say that it's okay for them to go see a prostitute... So why would we say this is okay for the physically disabled?

I think it is absolutely important that sexual therapy exists in order to help those with physical disabilities explore their bodies. After all, God made us as sexual beings! And I sincerely hope these people do get to discover their sexuality in a healthy way (which in my opinion, would be in the context of marriage). Please don't let that come off patronizingly. I have family members and friends with both mental and physical problems that I genuinely feel are entitled to experience the fullness of love. But rather than normalize a form of sex work, what about normalizing the idea that disabled people are human beings just like us--they are capable of love, capable of relationships, and worthy of our attention and affection. And there shouldn't be such a stigma against pursuing a caring, love-based relationship with someone who is disabled. Would it be easy to have a relationship with someone who was physically impaired? Nope, it sure wouldn't. But that doesn't mean it wouldn't be worth it, and that we should substitute something else for the fuller version. Love should be in sickness and in health, and any surrogate for the real thing is settling for something less than what we were made for.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Launch of The Net Alberta in Calgary!

Hey everyone!

So my wonderful friend Heather and I are launching an anti-human trafficking network for the cities of Calgary and Edmonton! As we showed the Nefarious documentary over summer, we realized that there was some communication missing between churches and organizations in Alberta who are doing great things about human trafficking!

As a result, we're launching The Net Alberta website next weekend on October 19! The purpose of the website is to create an online space where connections are facilitated between individuals, community groups, NGO's and churches who are fighting to stop modern-day slavery. If you or your group are hosting an anti-human trafficking-related event... If you have a volunteer for an event or new initiative... If a prayer request comes to mind... We would love to post it on our website (for free)! There will be a Calgary section and an Edmonton section where you can keep tabs on what's being done about human trafficking in each city.

The second purpose of The Net Alberta is to help create community between those who are involved in the anti-trafficking movement in these two cities. As the head of the Calgary section, I'd love for you to come out and experience and experience fellowship with like-minded people to celebrate our launch! Whether you are just dipping your feet in anti-trafficking work, are an expert in the field, or just want to learn more, this event is for you! So:

You are invited to join me for an afternoon potluck on Sunday, October 21. Below you'll find a more exciting invitation, so please feel free to pass it on to your friends, family, and co-workers who may be interested in connecting with other Calgary abolitionists! This will also be a time to learn more about The Net Alberta website and how you can use it as a resource.

Hope to see you this weekend!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Boobs & Booze?

Snipped this article out of this past Saturday's edition of the Calgary Sun. (Disclaimer: Before you read any further, I just want to forewarn readers NOT to try and check out the G-Spirits website... The picture above cuts off the bare breasts shown in the actual photo, among others like it on their front page). 

In his book Sex God, Rob Bell writes, "Jesus had much to say about what happens when a woman, an image-bearer, a carrier of the divine spark, becomes a 'that'... Something serious--sometimes hellish--happens when people are treated as objects, and we should resist it all costs."

Paying a woman to have alcohol poured over her breasts, which are then photographed and marketed to the world for the small price of $160 is something serious. This is a woman... As Bell puts it, she bears the image of God. She carries His divine spark. She should not be reduced to a 'that' because it ultimately steals her humanity, and ours as well...

Bell goes on to say, "We don't respect the divine image in others just because we want to uphold their humanity. It isn't just about them.

"It's about us.
"It's about our humanity as well."

Consequently, when we objectify others, we hurt ourselves in the process. As we make the object sub-human, we shed pieces of our own fullness along with it. It comes down to this: we can't disrespect the divine image in others without losing touch with the divine image in ourselves.

But, when we honor the divine image in others, we come closer to knowing the character of he who made the image in the first place... 

That's where I wanna be. And that's where I want to help draw others to as well. It's been amazing watching God open door after door over the last month with different areas of growth for my ministry with human trafficking. I am so amazed at his faithfulness and his evident blessing in this area of my life! I say that not to toot my own horn... But to bear witness to the fact that he makes himself known to those who seek to honor, respect, and stand up for his image-bearing daughters and sons.

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened" (Matthew 7:7 NIV).

Monday, October 1, 2012

Inspired by Obama

The video I want to share with you today comes from Obama's speech at The Clinton Global Initiative. President Obama speaks up about the issue of modern-day slavery, and says it is "barbaric, it is evil, and it has no place in a civilized world." To see the leadership of one of the world's most important countries speak so boldly about the issue of human trafficking is deeply encouraging for me. I kept on having to pause the video as I was scribbling down all the significant things he said!

I really appreciated that in this speech, Obama remarked, "Whether you are a conservative or a liberal, democrat, or republican, this is something we should all agree on." Amen to that! I urge you, whatever your political view may be, to watch this video and be inspired by this man's very evident desire for change, and his willingness to take leadership on such an important issue that has been swept under the rug for far too long.

I'm excited about the four steps Obama's leadership is wanting to take to go after the traffickers. It is very refreshing to hear a political leader understand that human trafficking will never be solved by trying to stop the supply of slaves. Rather, by stopping the traffickers, as well as the johns, the families who abuse their nannies, and the companies who use forced labor, the demand for slavery will begin to drop. As I understand it, Obama's plan includes:

1. Doing more spot it and stop it: Obama discusses treating victims as victims, working with police, teachers, and parents to know what to do if they see a suspected trafficking victim. This step is so important because recognizing trafficked persons is something every citizen can and should take part in. Yet so many people don't know how to spot a victim of human trafficking, much less how to talk to someone they suspect may be trapped in slavery, including myself! This is something I personally want to invest more time into learning about over the next year. There is a free online training through the Ministry of Justice of British Columbia that I've wanted to take for a while now. It takes 5-7 hours, but I want to carve out some time in my schedule between now and the end of November to do this training and learn more about how to recognize a trafficked person, and give them the resources they need if I was to come into contact with one. I would love for you to join me in this!

2. Turning the tables against the traffickers: Using technology to beat them at their own game. I LOVED that Obama subtly brought up the related issue of pornography here. When he speaks of "[developing] ways for young people to browse the internet safely," this means that software will be created to help prevent children, youth, and I hope grown adults as well, from running into porn or inappropriate pages as they browse the internet. It is so important to recognize the connection between porn and the increase of sexual slavery around the world. If you don't believe me, let me ask you this... Who do you think frequents the women who are forced to sell their bodies as prostitutes? Men who don't watch porn, or men who do?

3. Doing even more to help victims recover and rebuild their lives: Here Obama talked about simplifying Visa procedures so trafficking victims can stay in the US to help convict their traffickers. Why are traffickers so rarely convicted? First, because they indoctrinate their victims into believing that if they tell anyone, they will harm or kill their family back home. But even if social workers/police/counselors are able to break through that lie, and the victim decides they want to testify against their trafficker, they are often unable to because their passport has been stolen by their traffickers, or their Visa has expired, and they are deported back home to try and rebuild their lives on their own. This is a very complex and multi-faceted issue, but it's pretty shameful that we aren't (Canada and US) able to better facilitate the recovery of these victims. Another reason for this is that there are so few well-supported rehabilitation centres and safe houses, that even if victims are rescued from their enslavement, they often have nowhere to go, and end up right back in the snares of their traffickers.

4. The US will be leading by example to make sure their contractors do not engage in forced labor: Wow. I have a future blog post about this resource in mind, but Obama mentioned the Slavery Footprint quiz. This is a short quiz you can take to find out how many slaves work for you simply from the food you eat, the clothes you wear, and the activities you do. It's pretty astounding when you realize that almost every product we purchase today is somehow related to forced labor or slavery. Thankfully, the company behind the Slavery Footprint, Made In A Free World, has created the Free World app (download it now!) so you can engage and educate yourself about how to increase the demand for fair trade and slave-free products at retailers that are local to you. Obama said it best, "Every citizen can take action [against modern-day slavery]... By speaking up and insisting that the clothes we wear and the food we buy are free of forced labor." This is another thing I want to invest more time in. Right now, I encourage slavery more than I care to admit. I stopped buying non-fair trade chocolate half a year ago, but I know there is so much more I can do! You can expect some future posts on that as well. ;)

But above all this, personally my favourite quote from Obama was this: "Every faith community can take action as well, by educating their congregations, by joining in coalitions that are bound by a love of God and a concern for the oppressed. Like the Good Samaritan on the road to Jericho, we can’t just pass by indifferent. We've gotta be moved by compassion. We've gotta bind up the wounds. Let’s come together by a simple truth that we are our sisters' and our brothers' keepers."

I was very thankful that Obama specifically targeted the faith community as one that needs to step up and take action against the issue of trafficking. Since I found out about trafficking, one of my biggest motivations has been to try and get churches to understand the important role they need to play in leading the fight against slavery.We as the body of Christ are instructed to care for the people in slavery. "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? ... Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard" (Isaiah 58:6, 8).

Last night, I saw an aurora borealis for the first time. As I reflect on it, I'm reminded of my roots in social justice which began way back in junior high... We named the social justice club at my youth group "Generation Aurora" after those verses in Isaiah 58. How fitting that God would show up last night in his beautiful creation to give me a little squeeze of affirmation that says, "Yes, my daughter, you are doing what I have asked." Check out the beautiful photo snapped by my brother and be blessed to know that the glory of the Lord shines on those who take up his work. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Lessons from The Book of Negroes

I recently returned from vacation in the Okanagan. One of my favourite parts about going there every summer is that I have more time to read. This year, snuggled up late at night with a cozy mug of tea at my side, The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill nestled into my hands. It had been on my reading list for over a year, and I quickly dove into it and found myself mesmerized by the strength of the main character named Aminata Diallo, around whom this capturing story revolves. Hill's work is truly one of those books where you get completely lost in the story... You become so invested in the characters that you think about them throughout the day, molding your perspective to theirs.

I knowingly chose The Book of Negroes because I was certain I would find parallels between the Atlantic slave trade and the modern-day slave trade of human trafficking that I've become impassioned with fighting. Of course, there are distinctions between these two nightmares, (and I mean not to diminish the horror experienced by an impossible number of Africans during the original slave trade) but there are also many similarities. Most strikingly, the lack of human dignity recognized in slaves both then and now caught my attention...

Telling of the toubabu's (white man's) inability to acknowledge the human worth of Africans, Aminata writes, "Never have I met a person doing terrible things who would meet my own eyes peacefully. To gaze into another person's face is to do two things: to recognize their humanity, and to assert your own."

Those who forced Africans to walk for weeks, naked and tied together on their way to the massive slave ships that would ship them to the 'New World' to work for white people... Those who inspected Africans' bodies as if they were cattle... Those who raped African women with no regard for the destruction of their souls... Those who stole African parents' babies to be sold to other slave owners... Those who forced the 'Africa' out of the Africans... Those who killed African Muslims who prayed to their God for mercy... Those who forced African slaves to work for them until they died from disease or exhaustion... They had no inner peace with which to look their victims in the eyes.

Those who violently take women to 'breaking grounds' so that they can be gang raped and initiated into the sex trade... Those who line young girls up to inspect which bodies will bring them the most return for their investment... Those who trick teenage girls into thinking, "If you really love me, you'll prostitute your body"... Those who give their workers no way out by forcing them to become addicted to drugs... Those who lie to young people telling them they'll have a better life in a new country, only to trick them into forced sex for pay... Those who beat their prostitutes that don't turn in enough money each evening... Those who kill girls that are too old to make them any more money... They have no inner peace with which to look their victims in the eyes.

To meet another person's eyes peacefully is to recognize their humanity. You may not be a trafficker of slaves, but I want to challenge you to bluntly ask yourself  if there are people in your world that you look on as sub-human. People you entrap in feelings of worthlessness and shame. Are there people you gossip about? People you make fun of? People you joke about being useless and unworthy of any sort of attention? People you think because of their age, gender, race, weight, or past mistakes the world would be better off without? Sometimes I need a reminder that we are ALL made in God's image. Every single one of us. We all bear the Maker's mark. We all fall short. And yet we all are never too far gone for God to reach and to transform us. None of us are beyond His kiss of grace! 

As a white, middle-class female, I've tried to ask of myself honestly, If you lived during the Atlantic slave trade... Would you have treated Africans in the same way? Would you have dehumanized them and made them work for you like animals? 

I desperately want to be able to say that I wouldn't have, but given the historical context of that time period, the odds are working against me. The past cannot be altered, yet we each carry within us the possibility of a better tomorrow. What I've realized is that although we may not have directly participated in the trafficking of African slaves, and although at times we may feel stifled in our efforts to combat human trafficking, at the very least, we have the ability to stop one of the root thoughts behind these kinds of crimes... We have the ability to say 'no' to the thought that somebody else is not worth anything. Today I ask of myself, and of you... Are you dehumanizing anyone? Are you unable to look someone in the eye? Do you lack the ability to recognize someone's humanity because of a prejudice you need to let go of? And most importantly, does it honestly sit well with you to carry that belief and cause someone the pain of not being recognized as a whole person?

If that's striking a chord, let me repeat what I wrote earlier... We are ALL made in God's image. Every single one of us. We all bear the Maker's mark. We all fall short. And yet we all are never too far gone for God to reach and to transform us. None of us are beyond His kiss of grace!

Grace is for all of us: the judgers and the judged. I pray you'd embrace that today. Please join me in being a true chain breaker in a very local and tangible way. Through Christ, we have the ability to break free from the sin of judgment and contempt towards others, and instead refresh those around us with affirmations of their incredible worth.

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus..." (Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV).

Friday, August 31, 2012

She Has A Name

On August 11, David and I had the opportuntity to go see She Has A Name, a play by Andrew Kooman. Since the play was hosted as part of the Calgary Fringe Festival, standing in line to get in to the old church-turned-theatre was an interesting moment for me. In the midst of drag shows and generally crude comedy, here was a play about human trafficking.

Honest, haunting, and well-thought-out, this play was such a testament to me that all the different talents and gifts that we have can be used for something bigger than ourselves. The most memorable part of the entire production was watching the faces of the actors as they bowed at the end. Although it was the final night of the show in Calgary, they weren't beaming ear to ear or celebrating... Rather, their faces were full of the weight of what they had just portrayed. You could sense an inner longing, a deep hope that they might have made an impact, changed someone's perspective, or inspired someone to take action. It was very humbling to witness that moment.

You see, these actors weren't about making money, or becoming famous. They were there to tell a story, and an important one...  A story of a man named Jason who traveled to Thailand to try and rescue girls enslaved in the sex trade, and all the mixed emotions that come with that kind of dedicated work. A story of all the ghosts that haunt countless girls and boys like Number 18 (the young girl he tries to rescue) who are trapped in prostitution. A story about what happens when greed and lust kiss and twist themselves into something even more horrid. A story about injustice that bubbles up a sense of urgency and anger inside of you, so that you can stop for long enough in this busy world to ask yourself, what can I do about this?

And as I sit and reflect on that question myself, the more I see the faces of those actors and realize that I have talents I could be better at using to raise awareness about trafficking too. Writing is one of them, and I have to confess that I'm frustrated with myself that I let myself go so long between my last post and this one. But I'm here to tell you I'm committing to being more diligent about the use of my talents. And so, whoever you may be, I ask you to question yourself... What can you do about human trafficking? Or about another matter of social injustice that you care deeply about? What are you good at, and how could you use it to better the lives of others?

It is written, "For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then  teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully." Romans 12:4-8

We all have different abilities. And we were given them for a reason! So cease opportunities to use them. And tell someone about it so that you can be held accountable to what you set out to do. I would love to hear from you and encourage you in that way. (Please feel free to fire me an email at or leave a comment!)

Personally, I'm committing to writing a new post every two weeks. I'm also in the middle of booking more showings of Nefarious for this fall and winter. (You can read more about my involvement with this film here.) If you are a student who attends a post secondary school in Alberta, I'd love your help if you are interested in helping me book a showing of this very impacting film at your school. I'd also love to show it at workplaces or anywhere else where people are interested in learning about human trafficking.

Whatever your gifts are, don't just use them for yourself, or for fame and glory. There are millions of trafficked people who could use someone like you to stand up and use their talents to help end injustice.

And lastly, my friends in Vancouver, Kelowna, Edmonton, and Red Deer, She Has A Name is coming to you this fall! I really really encourage you to get out and see it. The play is beautiful and there's really no good reason for you to not see it.


P.S. So if you don't hear from me by September 14, somebody please spam my phone/Facebook/email asking where the next post is! Thanks for reading :)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Leaving The Comfort Zone

A few weeks ago at church, the pastor said this: "God will never use you in your comfort zone, but will comfort you when you choose to live for Him..."

When I was in junior high, I was doing something to further God's kingdom. I was part of a social justice team through my youth group that got together every week to talk about justice issues and to plan ways to help with them. We planned 30 hour fasts. We organized competitions for Samaritan's Purse's shoebox campaign. We read the news. We discussed how God called us to relieve suffering... I felt like, and I was, an active member of God's family.

Then I got to high school, and I became comfortable. Somehow I lost my drive to help others in tangible ways, and sat back and watched other people do it. Maybe I felt I didn't have time; maybe I was just too proud to humble myself and give my time to something bigger. But neither are good excuses. I stopped fighting injustice, and I started becoming apathetic. I still cared about the less fortunate and the abused and the hurting... But I stopped caring to the point of action.

I nestled into this comfort zone even further when I went away to university. New friends, new opportunities, new ways to spend my money, new temptations. I had moments where I wondered to myself, "Where did that caring girl go?" ... But as it is with apathy, my thought train never got chugging any farther than that.

Then God intervened in my life last summer and blessed me with the opportunity to lead a small group. I knew I was looking for something more, and ended up developing from leaders to good friends to best friends to for-real being together with the love of my life, David.

We spent mid-August until the end of April loving each other from long distance, in cities 3 hours apart from one another. And as much as we cherished that season because we grew so much by being apart, there were definitely unbearable moments where it just felt impossible to be away from one another for one more moment. In the midst of one of those instances, I cried out to God, "Lord, give me something MORE to focus on!" And being the wonderful and knowing Father He is, soon after, a friend of mine posted a link to the trailer of a documentary called Nefarious: Merchant of Souls. Wanting to see the whole thing, I checked out their website, and in a Spirit-inspired moment, I fired off an email asking to host a screening of the movie in Edmonton. I kinda thought, "They probably won't reply... But whatever, I'll send it anyway." I like to think that gave God a good laugh. ;)

Days later, a girl named Heather emailed me saying she had got my name from Exodus Cry (the organization that created Nefarious) and I knew at that second that God had now given me a task. This was my 'something more', and I remember sitting in my chair laughing out loud because I was so stunned to have heard an answer so quickly, both about the movie, and from God! (I'm glad He doesn't always work on our schedules... Sometimes we're actually way behind Him!). Heather and I met in the next couple weeks to start planning for our first screenings, and actually just showed the film to pastors in Edmonton two weekends ago. And this Friday we'll be screening the documentary at my home church in Calgary! (So... If you're interested, shoot me an e-mail!).

I've always felt that God gifted me with writing, and I wanted to start this blog to put that talent to use, to share my thoughts and ideas about how we can combat trafficking both locally and globally, and to inspire others to action. Friends and family, I hope you'll follow along in this journey with me, through prayer and actual help when I need it. I'm blessed to have lovely friends who are providing baking for the screening on Friday. Not to mention the endless support David provides... He's heard many a rant from my spurting mouth; bless him. But as God continues to move in this abolitionist movement, I'll have more and more opportunities for your support. I'd love to hear from you if you'd like to chat or learn more about what you can do to combat human trafficking, or some other issue that lights your soul on fire.

Is human trafficking a comforting passion to have? Absolutely not. A lot of the testimonies, articles, books, and movies I invest my time into learning from now make me sick to my stomach. They make me need to get fresh air to stop myself from exploding at the injustice of it all. But I know this is where God is going to use me. This is also where God is going to comfort me when opposition arises.

So I'm officially leaving my comfort zone of apathy and publicly sharing with anyone and everyone who happens to read this that this is my calling, and extending the invite to join in this movement of the Lord's beautiful Kingdom coming to earth and relieving the suffering of so many whose bodies are being exploited. Together, let's break the chain-like bondage that traps so many women, children, and men in modern-day slavery.

"Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven." (Luke 11:2)