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Summer Social Media Educational Series – July 1st to 7th

Voice Found’s ultimate goal is to see an end to child sexual abuse and commercial sexual exploitation. In order to achieve this goal we know that education is a key factor and so over the summer we will be using our social media to dispel myths and provide information on these crimes. While you may be knowledgeable about this issue it is our hope you will share this information with others who may not.

July 1st – Human Trafficking
Human Trafficking is a crime that involves the exploitation of an individual for profit. The crime occurs when traffickers use human beings to provide labour or services, often sexual, by gaining full control of their movements and selling them as commodities. Although we may often think this is the type of crime to happen in foreign places, human trafficking is happening in Canada in both urban and rural settings.

 

 

July 2nd – Domestic Trafficking

All processes in domestic trafficking occur in one country without crossing international boarders. It does not matter if the person being exploited is a citizen, refugee, immigrant or international student. 93% of Canada’s trafficking victims come from Canada*…..they are not moved across an international boarder.

*RCMP human trafficking national coordination centre. Statistics, human trafficking in Canada, March 2014.

 

July 3rd – International Trafficking

International trafficking involves crossing at least one international border during the process of exploitation. The person is first exploited in the ‘source’ country and then transported to the ‘destination’ country. Whether they are crossing the border legally or illegally, it is the crossing of the international border that defines their case as international trafficking.

 

 

 

July 4th – Child Sex Abuse

Child sex abuse is essentially the act of sexual power one person inflicts onto a minor, or the act of sexual power/control between two minors. There are many forms of child sex abuse and it does not necessarily mean the act of sexual intercourse or even physical contact. Sex abuse can occur in the language someone uses, the way someone touches, the pictures someone sends or what they are exposing to a child. It can occur in person or online and it can be between an adult and a child or between a child and another child.

July 5th – Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children

We hope today’s post will help you to understand the term ‘commercial sexual exploitation of children’ (CSEC).
CSEC occurs when individuals buy, trade or sell sexual acts with a child. This includes both contact and non-contact activities. CSEC also includes the recruitment, transporting, harbouring, obtaining or provisioning of a child for the purposes of a sexual act.
It is sex trafficking of children.

 

July 6th – Non-Contact Child Sex Abuse

Child sex abuse is both contact and non-contact. Today’s post is focused on non-contact abuse which is often a precursor to contact abuse.

Non-contact abuse includes the following:
-Being forced or invited to watch sex acts
-Exposure to sexually explicit material such as videos, photos, magazines. It can be both in person or via internet. 
-Listening to sex talk, comments of a sexual nature, obscene phone calls
-Sexually intrusive questions or comments whether in person, over phone or internet
-Deliberately exposing genitals to a child
-Inappropriately watching a child go to the bathroom or undress
-Taking photos of a child in sexual poses

Non-Contact abuse is child sex abuse. It is harmful to children and it is against the law

July 7th – Who Abuses Children?

Often we have an image of what an offender looks like and frequently that is a shifty looking man who probably drives a white van and hangs out at playgrounds. In addition – we often assign the term ‘pedophile’ to them.

While some abusers are pedophiles,male, look shifty and maybe even drive around in white vans – the reality is quite different.
More often than not children are abused by people known and trusted. They are teachers, coaches, neighbours, parents, step-parents, babysitters, clergy – anyone. And it is not just males who abuse children but females as well.

In our next few series of posts we will explore situational offenders vs pedophiles. These are important distinctions that will help you to protect children.

 

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Healing from Child Sex Abuse

It took me 42 years to finally tell someone that I had been sexually abused as a child starting from the age of 5. That’s a long time to carry a secret. More than that – it is a long time to move through life not truly living. Hiding so much of yourself. Coping through drug use and having to manage putting up with drug test after test isn’t a mood booster. Suffering from panic disorder, depression and suicidal thoughts. Dropping out of school. Being re-victimized and never feeling worthy. Thinking that you are the only one…the only person who feels such shame. That was my reality and on December 13, 2005 I broke that silence and began the journey to wellness.

Since disclosure I have moved forward and turned my pain into something valuable and healing. Starting Voice Found has been a labour of love and has helped in my healing so very much. One of the most significant things I discovered on this journey is the importance of knowing that I am not alone. That I am not the only person who has woken in fear during the middle of the night certain that ‘he’ was there. That I am not the only one who can’t walk alone in the woods or enjoy a simple sunny afternoon in a meadow. That dental appointments are like facing the gallows or that a certain smell or touch can bring me back to that 5 year old child who does not understand what is happening. Learning that what happened to me at such a young age was the reason my life felt so out of control was a gift. Finally things made sense.

That conversation – that understanding – that voice where there was once silence – it is so powerful when shared.

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of meeting Lauriane – a vibrant young woman from France who now calls Canada home. She shared with me her story and told me of her plan to bike across Canada as part of her healing journey. BIKE. ACROSS. CANADA!!!!!!?????? She wanted to get people talking about child sex abuse as she felt that it was still so shrouded in silence and that there was so much more support needed for survivors. I wholeheartedly agreed. Her idea was to get survivors talking about ways they heal and to shed light on organizations across Canada that provide help to survivors. For her, biking and physical activity is healing. And so when she said she wanted to do this ride from Vancouver to Ottawa THIS SUMMER and would I support her- how could I say no?

This is Lauriane’s journey. We are providing moral support, encouragement and through the power of social media want to help connect her to as many survivors and organizations as possible along the way. Her website is live and through GPS and social media you will be able to follow her journey. We would love to see you bike a few kilometers with her, cheer her on and share your stories of healing. And, if you are so inspired, we have been selected as her charity of choice. Funds raised will help us in our mission of preventing child sex abuse and commercial sexual exploitation.

I will be at the starting line on July 4th! If you are in Vancouver (Third Beach in Stanley Park to be exact) – the ride starts at 10:00 AM local time.

Time to ‘Break The Chain’.

Cynthia – Founder and CEO of Voice Found

 

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I See You

Friday, February 23rd we hosted the first annual Voicefound [un]gala. Our special guest for the evening was Torre Marie – a survivor of child sex abuse and the subject of our soon to be released documentary, ‘The Yellow Dress – A Story of Hope.’  Torre spoke to the crowd after the documentary was aired and her words made a significant impact on all who were there. Many have asked for a copy of what she said and so we are happy to share her speech below.

“Last week I quickly heard someone state that being described as lost is being described as valuable.

It began a firestorm of thoughts. To be lost and to be noticed means at least one other person sees you. Values you. Misses you. Is looking for you.

I have been invisible a very long time. Most of the time I still feel that way.
There are certain people in a person’s life that can be invaluable – they have insight in knowing, proclaiming, and speaking to the lost and forgotten. Personally, these people in my life are my Traumatologist, Cynthia Bland and Voicefound, and a very few friends I have here tonight.
There are too many times where we as a society don’t look up. Where we yell for each other to stop doing what we are doing to survive and remind each other of the annoyances our coping has created. There are too many lost with no one noticing. To many people walking around invisible. Unvalued, and misunderstood.  What you have done tonight. What you can continue to do tonight and everyday from here on is to say “I see you.”
By being here and by supporting this fundraiser and VoiceFound, you are saying, “you are lost, we notice, we care and we are going to help find you.” So I thank you. Without the support of Cynthia and Voicefound, and the others I mentioned I would still feel invisible. So I offer my gratitude, I know you see me. You accept me for who I am. Where I am. And most importantly you are on this journey with me to find me.
For a long time I was lost. I was lost and walking around in this world unnoticed. My experiences and my pain unvalidated. It wasn’t until I was seen in my darkest hours that I knew I was worth something. Worth the work, worth the fight, to heal and to find freedom from the invisibility that suffocated all hope.
To the survivors here tonight. I see you. I know you’re lost. I will help search for you. I am one of you. You are not alone. We matter.”
Thank you, Torre. Thank you for your courage, your beautiful vulnerability and for inspiring so many.
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voicefound [un]gala

Human Trafficking Awareness Month

The Yellow Dress Project

Torre Marie is a survivor of child sex abuse who started painting as a way to heal from her trauma. She produced a series of paintings called ‘The Yellow Dress Project’. Here she talks about the paintings and their significance.

Why the yellow?

“I’ve been asked this a lot. I’m not really one who tends to be a yellow person. The colour is probably on my least favourite list, well it was. This project has changed my perception of the colour. After considering the choices to represent such a delicate part of myself, yellow happened to ‘fall onto the canvas’ so to speak. The yellow represents my hope. The process of healing can be dark and it can feel lonely. Trauma can sound scary to people on the outside, it creates an uncertainty. Truly though it is just as scary and filled with just as much uncertainty to the person who is experiencing and healing from Trauma. It requires a great deal of hope, trust, and whole lot of faith to consider going through the painful healing process. I will be honest, sometimes I have lost sight of those things and as long as I keep going I find it again. The yellow reminds me that hope exists even though at times it can feel like it doesn’t.”

Why are all the girls silhouettes?

“The answer to this is one that requires delicate words. The easy answer is that the contrast is beautiful. That’s the easy answer though. The truth is that the silhouettes represent the shame. Shame is the I am _____, (unworthy, stupid, undeserving, etc.) It has a tendency to swallow up the uniqueness. It swallows up the talents, dreams, and future in my case. Shame is deeply painful, it occurs in everyone and in many different situations. Shame for survivors of childhood trauma is usually what fuels the silence and fuels the “I’m the only one” mentality. I learned a lot and healed a lot learning about shame. Brene Brown’s book, “I thought it was just me (but it wasn’t)” provided me with insight and understanding into shame that lead to healing breakthroughs, I strongly recommend it. When we shed the blackness of the shame, we can find our uniqueness.

We need the yellow dress to do that though, we need the hope of better, days, nights, tomorrow’s, of health, strength, and love. We need the hope of being worthy of love, compassion, empathy. We simply need hope of good. So when I look at these paintings that’s what I see. That is what I am reminded of.”

Torre Marie

Two years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Torre Marie. She had travelled to Leduc, Alberta where we were delivering facilitator training and we spent some time after class talking. During the course of the conversation, she expressed to me that there were so many people with stories about child sex abuse that needed to be told. We both recognized that most stories were of famous people and people of means who could afford treatment. We started thinking about how important it was to tell more stories. Stories from the ‘every day’ person. Stories from those who can’t work because of their trauma. Stories from people who have not had support of partners or family or therapists. Stories of incredibly brave people who despite the odds – despite the trauma – despite the lack of support – have found hope. Stories of resilience and courage that would help other survivors know they are not alone. Stories that would educate others as to the significant impact that sexual abuse has on a child.

It simply made sense to me that Torre Marie tell her story.

Filmed in Lethbridge Alberta,  ‘The Yellow Dress – A Story of Hope’ will debut on February 24th, 2017 at our fundraiser. In addition, we will be auctioning off some paintings from The Yellow Dress Project.

Torre Marie will be here – her first trip ever to Eastern Canada. Let’s give her a warm Ottawa welcome (yes, even in February).

See you at the Voicefound [un]gala!

Cynthia

It’s not just “talk”

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Like so many others, I found myself greatly disturbed by the recently leaked video of Donald Trump essentially referring to women as his play things. What has been equally, if not more upsetting, is the throng of people, including women, who are simply dismissing the talk as “locker room” antics that are somehow acceptable if kept private. Perhaps it bears reminding that kissing and groping women without their consent is a form of sexual assault.

Let me be abundantly clear: On no level, private or otherwise, is it acceptable to speak of or treat women as anything less than human beings. The sort of thinking that sees girls and women as objects of men’s whim is what gives rise to the issues that Voicefound is working so hard to remedy and heal. Sexual exploitation, aggression and rape are rooted in a mindset that continues to permeate society today.

We can thank Trump for bringing it into our current discourse. We now need to firmly and resolutely express our absolute abhorrence of such “talk” and behaviour. It doesn’t matter who is saying it, it is wrong. We have an opportunity now to rise up and put an end to such talk and perhaps it will eventually seep into a very disturbed mindset.

It is not only words. It is deeply upsetting and feeds the thinking that often results in abhorrent behaviour. There are reportedly 460,000 sexual assaults in Canada every year. According to research by University of Ottawa Professor Holly Johnson, only 33 of 1000 assaults are reported to police. Of those, 29 are recorded as crime, with 12 charges resulted. Final convictions: 3.

It is 2016. Time to see girls and women as human beings on an equal footing with men. Women are not play things nor are they put on this earth to satisfy men’s urges. If you know this, then speak up. If you don’t, take a lesson. This sort of “talk” must end now.

Connect. Communicate. Care.

Tomorrow (September 10th) is World Suicide Prevention Day and this year the theme is “Connect, Communicate, Care”. How do we do that? What actions can people take to be reach out and help prevent someone from taking their life? How can we support someone who has survived an attempt? What can you do support someone who has been brave enough to admit suicidal thoughts? I don’t have all the answers but I do have some experience to share.

I myself have been suicidal. More than once I have formulated plans and come to the place where the nothingness takes over from feelings that are just to painful to handle. The depth of sadness, shame, unrelenting panic attacks and hopelessness have weighed me down to the place where I no longer feel. It is from the empty place of nothingness and hopelessness where the suicidal ideation takes over. The dark seduces me and I want to dive deep into its embrace. I have not taken that final step and can confidently say that I won’t. Not because I have magic powers or have resolved the illness that sometimes takes me there. That’s not why. (mind you, magical powers would be so cool!). I will always have this illness and I will never be completely healed from my trauma. The reasons I won’t are because I have hope. I have felt some force from outside myself reach in and light a tiny flicker and show me light when I saw none. I am convinced that this force comes from 3 of my family members who have died by suicide – one in particular who, like me, was sexually abused as a child.

My experience has shown me the following:

Connect: When a person is suicidal they do not feel connection. Not with anyone and certainly not with themselves. They are listening to the critical voice inside their head that is telling them how hopeless life is and in a trance-like state with a seemingly impenetrable shield. It’s hard to break through and you may not be successful however the attempt at connection is in and of itself connecting. Remind them of activities or behaviours that have helped them before. What has brought a smile to their face or sparked some passion in the past? Talk with them about those things and if possible, help them to experience something again. Maybe you have noticed they are ‘lighter’ when watching the sunset or perhaps a drive or listening to certain music elicits that spark. Talk about the future with them as well. Ask what dreams they had as a child. Talk about making dreams come true – orient them to the future. This is a step towards finding purpose and nurturing hope.

Communicate: When I was suicidal, I withdrew so much from everyone and everything and yet there were moments when I was almost manic in my need to be heard and seen. I wanted – no NEEDED to be heard so desperately and yet when I spoke it felt like I was invisible. I felt as if no one saw me – and really, how could they? I was hiding so much…hiding shame, hiding the dark, hiding my angst, hiding a secret that was destroying every part of me. Every single day was a lie. Communication was difficult as I could not connect with myself or verbalize what I needed because I did not know nor did I feel worthy. Communicating with someone in this state is so important and yet how do you reach them? For me, the biggest breakthrough was when someone actually took the time to sit with me and not demand that I talk. They were there – and I mean they were there in every sense of the word. They touched me, they saw me, they were present with me, they did not tell me what to do but rather assured me that they would never, ever give up on me. They let me know that I was ‘heard’ even when I did not speak. Communication is so much more than the verbal. Good communication is being fully and completely present with another.

Care: We say we care about people but how many are prepared to really step up and put actions behind their words? People who are having suicidal thoughts are not easy to have around. They may behave in ways that frustrate even the most caring and loving of friends. It’s also very frightening. When you are caring for someone who is having suicidal thoughts, they are a part of your consciousness every moment of every day. There is no respite. You are literally fighting for their life. I have spent months caring for someone in a suicidal state. Checking in daily on my way home from work there were times when opening the door I would be greeted by silence. My heart would start racing – my PTSD would kick in and I was certain I was going to find them having completed the act of suicide. And yet and although it was a very difficult situation, I kept the promise to this person and to myself that no matter my fear and discomfort I would continue to care. When they lashed out at me, I stayed. When they broke promises, I stayed. Care for a person who is suicidal is a verb –it requires that you feel concern.

For those of you who are committing to be ONE who reaches out – it is vitally important that you show yourself the same compassion. Ensure you connect with professionals and loved ones who can support you. Communicate your fears with your support network. And practice self- CARE. Be gentle with yourself and know that if you are not successful, it’s not your fault. Know that your love was felt and your words and actions mattered – oh yes, they mattered so much – and you showed up, you loved, you provided moments of peace.

Post script – my stepmother died by suicide at the age of 49. I had many heartfelt conversations with her in an effort to understand. She knew she was loved and told me as much more than once. I hold that with me when I feel helpless.

Resources:
If someone is in crisis – dial 911
Call your local distress centre for help and support
Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention has a lot of valuable information understanding, grieving, supporting, preventing and advocating.

Blog post by Cynthia Bland – Founder and CEO of voicefound

The Anniversary of my Disclosure

“Were you sexually abused as a child?” A momentary pause before I responded…..”What do you mean by sexually abused?” The counsellor at the women’s centre could see me struggling but did not answer the question that I had thrown back to her. Of course I knew what being sexually abused meant. I was trying to deflect,to continue denying the reality that I had buried for decades. Eyes lowered in shame I softly whispered, “Yes, I was.”

The year leading to this moment had been filled with incredible stress which included a new boss, 4 busy children, a career that had me travelling internationally, an unhappy marriage and the death of my father. The changes in my behaviour must have been noticeable to my colleagues. I’d always been so capable, diplomatic,spoke only kindly of others and sought solutions rather than complain. I was a doer – a person who worked diligently to never miss a deadline. That had changed….I was now angry, critical, impatient and not managing my workload well at all. There were emotional outbursts. And there was pain…so much pain. I’d often go to my car at lunch and sob my heart out. Other times I would sit and think how easy it would be to drive away to ‘somewhere’. I wanted to run away from myself. I didn’t want to feel.

I’d felt this before. I ached with a loneliness that had visited me many times in my life. I felt unloveable and like I came from another planet. It hurt. I hurt. Others around me were hurt. Naturally, people pulled away and I don’t blame them. I was toxic.
My answer for so many years before had been cocaine. And while I’d been clean for about 15 years I was ready to return to the drug that had been my friend for such a long time. The cravings were so strong – I was not thinking about all the negatives of my addiction but rather focused on the elimination of the pain I was in. I wanted to use but knew if I did that it would be my death sentence. I knew with complete certainty that I would get high, get into my car and drive myself into oblivion.

Calling the treatment centre was the beginning of the journey to the founding of Voicefound. I wish I could say that once I told someone about my abuse that things were easy and got better right away. They didn’t. After all, I’d held onto that secret for 42 years.

I remember coming home the day of my disclosure and being terrified to tell my husband. I felt so much shame and when I did tell him, I minimized what had happened to me from age 5 to 7. I didn’t mention the rapes at the ages of 12 and 16. I insisted there had been no penetration (there had) as if somehow that made it not so bad. I felt such shame and hoped he would forgive me for what had happened to me as a child. I did not tell my mother until many months later.

Ten years ago there were very few people sharing their stories publicly. There were few advocates, no Facebook pages, no Twitter, no online places where I could find others who understood how I was feeling. I’d been warned by my therapist that this would be hard. That was an understatement.

Disclosure was the beginning of the most difficult journey of my life. I won’t gloss over it as I believe others who are still holding the secret need to know the reality of disclosure. It is a painful, lonely and terrifying journey. BUT – and this is the most important thing of all – it IS worth every difficult moment. As you go to your past and gather that child in your arms, show her (him) love and and then begin to move forward – you will finally know what it is to live. You will discover so much to love about yourself and in turn others. Everything about your life will come into sharp focus and all the fragmented pieces of yourself will come together to become a beautiful, whole you. And you will do it with the support of so many others who know how it feels and who will cheer you on. And because you endured so much as a child – your resilience will serve you well. After all – YOU are a SURVIVOR!