By Katherina Toews
Our feet take us everywhere. They are the most basic form of transportation, and one trend in our society nowadays is to count how many steps we take each day. Our smart watches track how many steps our feet take, how far we travel, and how fast we got to our destination. While technological advances can monitor our every action, one thing they can’t track is the different steps we take in our lives. Whether we take steps towards achieving our dreams, towards creating a family, or towards personal happiness, every day we have a choice to take a step towards our future or to remain in our present circumstances.
The women that come into our program are all taking steps, big and small, towards the future they see for themselves. We love the women that enter into our program, and we want to see them flourish as they step out of fear and into freedom. That’s why we’re launching our #HerNextStep campaign with the goal of not only bringing awareness to the issue of sexual exploitation in Calgary but to also raise $25,000 to fully support the operations of one of our houses for a whole year.
We’re running this campaign over the week of the Calgary Stampede not because it’s a convenient time for us, but because research has shown that the influx of visitors to the city during a large sporting event is directly linked to an increase in demand for the sex industry. Staff Sgt. Robert Rutledge of the Calgary Police Services explains that “During Stampede, the city sees about a million visitors. They also see an increase not only in sex trade workers on the streets but also on social media sites, escort ads dramatically increase.” It can be easy to sweep the extent of sexual exploitation under the rug during a time of the year that’s supposed to be fun, funky, and family friendly. However, the truth is that when events draw large numbers of people to one spot, morality decreases and sexual exploitation rises sharply. Another sporting event that shares the grandeur and popularity of the Calgary Stampede is the Super Bowl. Carnegie Mellon University recently conducted a study that reviewed 33 events similar to the super bowl within Canada from July 2013 to February 2016. Their researchers focused on over 32 million online sex ads and found that significant increases in postings connected with large sporting events.
We believe that the women in our city deserve to be free and to have options to survive other than selling their bodies. We believe in helping them take their next steps out of degradation and into autonomy. Through our program women have the opportunity to take their next steps:
● Out of Fear – Many of the exploited women in Calgary are afraid for their lives. Prostitution is dangerous, and “Violence is a reality out there. You can get beat up or even lose your life.” Confesses a sex worker. Through our housing program, we’re able to offer these women a safe place to begin their journey towards freedom and independence. In the houses and the classroom, they learn life skills such as how to cook, open a bank account, and create a budget.
● Towards Safety – We provide our ladies with not only physical safety but also with the chance to finally feel safe from what lays in their past. Our houses are safe from abuse, substances, and shame. This feeling of safety allows our women to start to relax, de-stress, and finally reconnect with who they are.
● Out of Crime – Many of the women in our program have criminal records, but they don’t remain in a place of lawful disregard. Instead, they take steps towards doing a complete 180 with their lives, including connecting with intentional friends, sponsors, and resources. These life changes are so profound that a judge dropped all charges against one of our participants after witnessing the incredible changes that occurred in her life!
● Towards Recovery – The road to recovery is not a short or easy one, but it is one that our participants bravely walk each day. Along with teaching life skills, Next Step Ministries also provides a women’s only AA meeting which one participant described as, “A huge part of [her] life. It leads you on a journey of self-discovery, and it leads you to God.” Recovery is never comfortable, but in a community of people that love you, it becomes a little bit easier.
We want to be able to support and encourage the women in our program to take #HerNextStep towards uncovering who God has created her to be and discovering His amazing love and plan for her. As we enter into this time of celebrating our rich heritage with the Stampede, would you consider donating to help the sexually exploited women in our city step into the prosperous future that is awaiting her?