Nearly 130 people remembered during annual Day of Mourning
- NC Raine | August 09, 2018
Nineteen years ago, a group of at-risk youth in Saskatoon wanted to honour the life and memory of a woman who tragically lost her life in the sex trade. Little did they realize that their small act of remembrance would grow to the annual Day of Mourning; an EGADZ youth-led honouring of those who lost their lives to the sex trade. Since its inaugural year, EGADZ youth have celebrated the lives of 125 individuals who lost their lives to murder, suicide, overdose, and disease related to the sex trade.
This year's Day of Mourning, on August 14th, will honour four more individuals who lost their lives.
“It's a way of showing that these people were loved. We need to mourn them – they are human beings, these beautiful men and women who unfortunately struggled in life,” said Jackie Schell, Operation Help committee at EGADZ.
“It is important to both mourn and celebrate their lives,” she said.
The Day of Mourning has been officially recognized by the Government of Saskatchewan. The event includes memorials, prayers, music, and a candlelight walk through the area where sex trade is most prolific.
The direct impact the Day of Mourning has on the sex industry is unclear, but organizers say that numbers are dropping, as last year eight lives were lost, in comparison this year's four.
The decline in deaths more than likely tied to Operation Help, an EGADZ program which works with men, women, and children in the sex industry or at risk of becoming involved. Schell says that the ultimate goal of Operation Help is to put individuals in positions where they are able to leave the sex trade.
“A lot of it has to do with family involvement and cycles. The abuse, addictions, and all the social issues that are there really plague the community. There are so many root causes explaining why someone ended up there,” said Schell.
Operation Help typically works with individuals aged 14 and up, helping them find secure housing, deal with substance issues, and even listen, judgement free, to those who want to share their story.
“We let our clients know that we're there to provide them with whatever they may need,” said Schell. “Helping them exit can be difficult – this is often something they've done for a long time. But we set them up with a strong support system to ensure they have housing and are safe.”
Schell says that common misconceptions of the sex trade in Saskatchewan include that it only effects women, that everyone involved is necessarily an addict, and that it only takes place on the streets. One of Operation Help's biggest challenges is finding ways to connect with sex workers who primarily use the internet.
“Our success rate with the girls we are able to work with is actually quite high – whether they exited the industry or became sober,” said Schell. “We measure by the little step's that are important to us.”
The Day of Mourning takes place on Tuesday August 14th at 6:30pm at Pleasant Hill School.