ICT Series: Native women and girls exploited throughout Canada
"Through their work at the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network and a local rape crisis center, Cherry Smiley and Laura Holland are on the frontlines of helping girls and women escape the horrors of forced prostitution.

On a daily basis, they witness the despair and destruction of women targeted by pimps and johns who earn profits from their bodies. They see the gaping wounds and scars of women bruised and battered. They hear the stories of those trying to escape, and they help to provide hope and resources that can change a young girl’s life.

“Why is society not horrified by what is happening here? This is not child labor, it’s child rape, yet the authorities have done little to deal with the pimps and perpetrators,” said Smiley, an activist and artist who is part of AWAN’s collective of women volunteers and advocates.

“It’s disheartening to see the conditions in which they must live. We try to provide options for a way out, but it’s challenging. Escaping prostitution can involve getting clean from drugs, getting an education, and a decent place to live. Some of them make it and some don’t.”

Holland, who has worked with battered women for 25 years, provides a historical view that frames the role that churches and the Canadian government play in devaluing Native women.

“We are Canada’s first prostituted women. We know brothels were set up around trading posts and military posts to sexually service fur traders and military men. Then came the churches and residential schools where thousands of children were kidnapped and abused. Now the foster care system takes our children and places them with well-paid strangers. These systemic forces helped to create the devaluation towards First Nations peoples that has continued into today."

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