Trisha Baptie was just 13 years old when she first began exchanging sex for alcohol or drugs, or a place to stay.
She had come from a middle-class upbringing, but her parents had issues of their own and, after they divorced, she was placed in foster care.
Baptie spun out of control and was vulnerable to the attention of others.
Many took advantage of that, and Baptie, now 40, plunged into a 15-year period of drug addiction and prostitution, most of it on the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver.
Now, she advocates for exploited women and changes to prostitution laws through her non-profit organization EVE (formerly Exploited Voices now Educating).
Baptie will be the keynote speaker in Abbotsford this Sunday (Jan. 26) at a forum hosted by Defend Dignity – a Christian and Missionary Alliance justice initiative to abolish prostitution in Canada – and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.
Baptie wants to see the laws change so that the focus is on the johns – those who pay for sex – while it is decriminalized for those who are sold for sex.
She says buying sex is a form of violence against women and is not, contrary to popular belief, consensual.
“It’s not choice. It’s actually lack of choice,” she says.
Baptie says women enter prostitution as a means of survival – for example, to fuel an addiction, feed their children or because they have mental-health issues.
She asserts that prostitution is a form of “patriarchal oppression” and men who pay for sex should be held accountable for their actions.
Baptie says she felt she had no other choice when she was immersed in the industry, but it devastated her mind, body and spirit.
“I have always kind of felt that my body was never my own … I only felt that my body could be negotiated with.”
She was able to leave at the age of 28, due to the support of an outreach worker who became a friend and encouraged her to so something more with her life.
In 2007, Baptie received journalist credentials to cover the murder trial of Robert Pickton. Many of his victims were known to Baptie, and she wanted to give them a voice.
It’s why she continues the work she does today.
“I don’t want anyone to go through the same experiences,” she says.
The forum in Abbotsford starts at 6 p.m. on Sunday at Sevenoaks Alliance Church (2575 Gladwin Rd.).
Other speakers are: Abbotsford Police Chief Bob Rich, Julia Beazley from the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, Michael Markwick from Capilano University, Dan Rossi from the Calgary Police and Glendynne Gerrard, director of Defend Dignity.
For more information about EVE, visit educating-voices.com.