My story of healing started five years ago when I called Interval House of Ottawa (IHO). I had started to realize that things weren't right in my relationship, so I took my two year old son Oliver, and we went to stay with a friend. But my abuser found us. He showed up and threatened me if I didn't come home, and my friend if she let us stay with her. To keep my friend safe, I packed up and stayed with a different friend. This time I knew there was no way he could find me. But he did! Again, he came to my friend's home and threatened us both. I figured out he had put a GPS in our son's toy. I knew I needed a safer place than my friends could provide, so I called a shelter.
After a little time at IHO, I started to adjust to knowing that we were safe. I talked to my counsellors a lot. They reassured me that my instincts were correct; what I was experiencing wasn't right! Eventually, I had the courage to say what I had been suspecting. I sat in my counsellor's office and said, "I think I was trafficked."
We talked about what human trafficking is; that the Department of Justice defines it as involving the recruitment, transportation, harbouring and/or exercising control, direction or influence over the movements of a person in order to exploit them. That victims of human trafficking often face fatal consequences if they try to escape, and the crime is an assault on fundamental human rights.
I used to think I was providing for my family when he forced me to keep doing sex work; when I would come home and hand over my money to him, and if it wasn't enough, he'd make me go back to work until I got enough. For a while it seemed normal that we didn't make decisions together, that he was violent physically, emotionally, and sexually. At IHO, my counsellors helped me work through the knowledge that it wasn't normal and it wasn't right. They also helped me get in touch with the police when I said I wanted the opportunity to tell my truth about what happened. I didn't expect that the police already knew about my abuser. They were already gathering evidence against him, and I helped them as much as I could to keep me and Oliver safe.
A few months later, I moved from IHO to my own home. Me and Oliver finally had a place that was all ours! We were in charge of our lives! Eventually, my abuser went to prison for some of his crimes, and we started to feel safe in our home. But in time, his prison friends started showing up at my new house. They threatened us for my role in his conviction. We weren't safe again.
I moved to a different city and entered another shelter during this unsafe time. Oliver and I found another home, and we started over again. We started to adjust to our new home and new safety. Until he got out of prison.
When he found us again, he started demanding custody of Oliver. I spent every day fighting to keep my son safe and away from the man who caused us so much terror for so long. For months we lived in this struggle, always scared I would lose my son.
Until, without warning, there were new charges and a new trial. This time he was charged for the historical violence and human trafficking of me and others. This time, he was going to prison for a long time and his sentencing included a weapons prohibition and registration in the sex offender database. This time, I know we will be safe from him.
All of this has happened in only five years. With the help of the counsellors at IHO, I developed a lot of skills to keep my family safe. Now, I'm going to use my experiences to help other women going through the same thing. I'm going back to school to be a VAW counsellor to help women who experience the same things that I did. The story of my healing started when I entered IHO, but it didn't end there. The violence I lived through is going to become a tool for helping other escape it.