This blog series highlights the work being done by #NotinMyCity Ally Jacquie Meyer at the HER Victory program in Calgary, AB, which is part of the Victory Outreach Church.
HER Victory provides advocacy and support to exploited or abused women and girls. #NotinMyCity has been supporting Victory Outreach and HER Victory with a hands-on, practical approach throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. This is part one of a two-part series profiling Jacquie, HER Victory, and their work in a Q&A format.
#NotinMyCity will be applying additional practical support to other organizations in the community as we navigate these unsettling times together. Stay tuned for more details. If you would like to contribute to our work, click here.
#NotinMyCity: You have been involved with Victory Outreach for 20 years, tell us about that. Why did you first become involved with this organization?
JM: “I started attending Victory Church and one of the founders of the Victory Foundation was presenting about their outreach in the Victoria Park area of Calgary. He said they were looking for people to help serve food to the homeless out of their church, and I thought, “Yes, sign me up!”. I’ve always had a heart for the marginalized and the poor, and I thought this was a good way to immerse myself first hand. The experience stirred in my heart and brought light to my calling.
Victory Outreach runs three church locations in Calgary: Bowness, Ogden and Forest Lawn. Our mandate is to go into the darkest places of the city to serve and shed light. I started helping out at our Ogden location, which houses 60 men with affordable housing, as well as with meal projects throughout the year, followed by years of serving at our Eastside location conducting outreach projects within the community. After 10 years, I sat as Director on the board of the Victory Foundation. This enabled me to really immerse myself in understanding the structure, need, mission and how I could be most effective from a board level.”
#NotinMyCity: When did HER Victory come to fruition?
JM: “At the time, I was helping at the church located in the community of Forest Lawn, located on 19th Avenue, which is basically Calgary’s prostitution stroll.
In my experience, most of these women, if not all, have experienced some kind of emotional, physical, sexual abuse, trauma or crisis in their life. Perhaps they were raised by parents who were heavily addicted to drugs or alcohol, or grew up in very abusive environments. This ultimately has led them to working the streets to survive and continue an addiction. Unfortunately, the cycle has them working the streets in order to sustain their addiction. These women were seeking help and support. There was a need and we, as a church, were only band-aiding the problem. Hence the birth of HER Victory; these women were at our doorstep needing not only practical help but emotional support, advocacy and a friend. In January 2019, we opened our doors to fill this need.”
#NotinMyCity: Once you decided to open your doors, what happened next?
JM: “I’m a person of faith, and I felt strongly called to this mission. I immediately started fundraising for a showering facility in the Forest Lawn location, sourcing donations and seeking mentorship from other agencies within the city that were tackling women who were being sexually exploited. I hit the stroll, letting the street workers know we were here for them. The response was strong and welcoming. This was needed more than ever.
HER Victory really encompasses relationships, and building trust. We started by addressing their physical needs by offering showers and care packages, food hampers, clothing and basic resources and referrals. These women really needed someone to advocate for them and more than anything, a real friend. When I presented our mission at the Victory Foundation, a philanthropist offered to donate a year’s salary for us to formally launch HER Victory.”
#NotinMyCity: In your time helping sex workers, what are some common stereotypes and assumptions about these women and the industry that you have realized are false?
JM: “The biggest misconception is the idea that these women are living this life by choice. This is not a choice. Any girl who says it is her choice is responding that way because of her vulnerability. Once you get to know these women, and get to the root of the issue, they all desperately want out.”
#NotinMyCity: You talk about how addiction is also an issue.
JM: “There’s a misconception that these girls and women are junkies or druggies with no value. The women I work with carry so much guilt and shame for the work they feel forced to do. They often started their drug addiction at a very young age, most from early abusive home environments or exposure to drug use from a young age. Most work to enable their daily use. They often tell me the drugs help them numb the emotions of their thoughts and actions.
If willing, we offer referrals and support through the detox process. When an individual wishes to exit, it is usually the next crucial step, and most often the hardest. They have developed a relationship with the drug and the addiction is paralyzing. Our goal is to see them leave their old life behind and begin a new one.
When someone says they “are done” and they want sobriety, to get off the drugs and start a new life, we work to support, advocate, assist and stand by them through the process.”
#NotinMyCity: When people first hear about sexual exploitation they don’t think it’s happening in their city. But you’re seeing the effects firsthand.
JM: “Correct – another misconception people have is not realizing there are women and girls being exploited in Calgary. People don’t realize prostitution exists in our city. People have the misconception it only happens in larger cities, and this couldn’t be further from the truth. The sex trade is active day and night, all year round.”
#NotinMyCity: Why do you think this mentality persists?
JM: “I think people don’t want to believe that trafficking happens here. This can be a forgotten demographic. I have witnessed firsthand women being treated as objects, possessions or inhuman. These are real people with real stories. Most are mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, educated and still crave hope for a better life.”
#NotinMyCity: We know that domestic violence numbers are usually much higher than what is reported to law enforcement and other authorities. How does HER Victory partner and/or work with these authorities and the victims?
JM: “We have a very strong partnership with the Calgary Police Service beats team. I work with them daily regarding activity on the stroll. Most women in this industry do not want to report any violent or abusive behaviour out of fear. HER Victory has enabled a trusting gap between police and clients of HER Victory. It has been quite successful. The CPS has been great in educating us on how we can, within the law, be most effective and supportive to them.
We give women the opportunity to fill out a “bad date report” through an organization called Shift. This is posted outside my office and through a few different channels so these women can be aware when they are working of certain clients or abusive individuals. A vehicle description, a description of the offender, and other pertinent information is recorded and posted. This is helpful for safety and awareness.”
#NotinMyCity: HER Victory is seen as a Sanctuary for many women and girls.
JM: “ I have had clients come to my office right after being raped, assaulted or robbed, and they do not want to report it to police. They really feel vulnerable that no one will believe them. Ultimately, HER Victory is about supporting and loving them where they are at in that moment of vulnerability. We believe in the holistic approach to healing: physical, emotional and spiritual. We are a friend first and a dose of hope where there seems to be none, a sanctuary of safety when there is no home or place to go. We advocate on their behalf when they cannot and surround them with a team of resources and assistance when all else fails, we try to instill the dignity they do not give themselves.”