Montreal housing shelter provides a way out for victims of sexual exploitation

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There are 2.4 million victims of human trafficking in the world. (UNODC 2012)

Montréal is recognized as a major destination for sexual tourism. (ECPAT, 2016)

1,500 pimps or more have been active in Québec over the last 10 years. (SRCQ, 2013)

89% of prostituted women want to get out of it. (CSF, 2012)

Statistics from the La Sortie website

They’re shocking statistics. We can’t ignore the reality that so many people are trapped in exploitation all around the world.

When Gerry and Marcia Plunkett, pastors of Catch The Fire Montreal, discovered the extent of the problem in their city, they knew they had to do something about it. They wanted to see those that are trapped in the sex industry free and thriving.

They founded La Sortie (also known as The Way Out), in 2013. In September 2018, La Sortie launched the first ever safehouse in Quebec for victims of sexual exploitation.

Meeting Montreal’s needs

When Gerry and his team started La Sortie, they mobilized a research team to discover the primary problem areas in their city, the services that were already available, and what needs they could serve in the community.

Out of the research, La Sortie established a program to support women from the moment they leave the sex trade until they are able to live independently. It’s a program that many victims in Montreal need urgently.

Charlie, a victim of sexual exploitation, said in a video interview, “I tried to escape many times but I always returned to my parent’s place. Perhaps I would have gotten free the first time if an organization like this had existed.”

“I’m sending you”

Maylissa Luby works with La Sortie as a full-time social worker. She grew up in Quebec City and was sexually exploited at age 15. At 17, she moved to the US to escape. Years later, when she became a Christian, God put the people of Quebec on her heart.

“I had always prayed, ‘God, help my people, send a light, send people,’” she said, “Ten years later, he’s like, ‘I’m sending you.’”

Maylissa returned to Quebec with her family where she now aids victims of sexual exploitation in their reintegration to society.

She meets with women to them to help them take steps out of their situation. “Just breaking isolation is a big one. A lot of the women are just in the cycle, they’re in fear, and they're not talking to anyone who’s not in the industry about it because they’re in shame they feel guilty,” she said.

“Sometimes I can’t even get to an intervention plan because the person, she’s on drugs, she has nowhere to live, she needs detox. She needs to find an immediate safe house.”

Problems finding a home

The drug rehab shelters and shelters for victims of domestic violence provided by the province of Quebec weren’t serving the specific needs of victims of sexual exploitation. But providing a much-needed safe house wasn’t easy.

The organization found a suitable home but faced opposition from people in the area. “When the neighbours found out it was going to be on their street, it was like, ‘We want to help them, but not on our street,’” said Maylissa.

The shelter opens

In September 2017, attendees at the Catch The Fire conference in Toronto generously raised over $42,000 to help La Sortie create Montreal's first shelter for victims of sexual exploitation.

La Sortie opened the shelter in 2018, and it’s already making a huge difference.

“I've been following one of my clients for a year. She moved into the house when it opened and she is just blossoming now. It’s like everything I taught her, just by being in the house, the new environment, she's getting it, and she’s doing it,” said Maylissa.

“It’s just amazing… Just changing the environment, being able to be in a positive house, where you're loved, you’re not judged, you’re encouraged constantly. Those words of affirmation, they're just lifting them up.”

Looking forward

The current shelter has room for five residents, and La Sortie are looking to buy a bigger shelter. A place where they can house more women and equip them to lead happy, healthy lives.

La Sortie host an annual gala in November to raise funds, and are also looking for continuing donors, prayer support, and volunteers for practical needs. You can find out more about the organization on their website.

Written by Alice Clarke