As a child growing up in Nova Scotia, Natasha Falle had a pretty average life. She lived in the suburbs with her mother, who managed bridal stores, and her father, who was a police officer.
But when she was in her early teens, her parents divorced, and her life changed. Suddenly she was living with a single mother who was turning increasingly to alcohol and not providing her with the attention she needed.
“I started acting out, and my parents were not seeing these red flags,” she said.
“I was stealing cars, doing lighter drugs, and then started doing harder drugs like acid and mushrooms. I was doing these things, really, to get attention. I was starting to find a sense of family from these people who were involved in this criminal activity.”
Inside, she craved the love and support she used to receive from her parents, who were no longer there for her.
One night, a few months shy of her 15th birthday, Falle found herself with nowhere to sleep. She befriended two girls her own age who were involved with prostitution. They offered to take her back to their apartment.
“On our way there, we stopped at the grocery store and bought a cucumber,” Falle said.
“They showed me how to use that cucumber with a condom, how to be safe. They basically groomed me. You want to believe that it's always men who are luring and grooming girls. It's not always the case. You have to beware of the friends.”
Once she was involved in prostitution, she lured five of her own friends, also from troubled homes, into the sex trade.
“We were like a bunch of little bunnies in a forest. We were fresh meat. We were prey for every paedophile, pervert, pimp and drug dealer that was out there. They would come to our windows and call us on our phone.”
Falle, now the executive director of an organization called Sextrade 101, which helps people escape the sex trade, was the keynote speaker at an Oct. 18 symposium on human trafficking and street prostitution.
More than 100 people packed the Croatian Hall on Kathleen Street to hear her story.
Falle went on to spend 12 years in the sex trade. She eventually got involved in “upscale” prostitution, and made a lot of money.
“I bought my pimp a Mercedes,” she said.
“I had a Mustang. All of this material gain justified that I'm not like those crackheads, or crackhoes. Those derogatory, painful, judgemental names, I inflicted on my peers. I had to justify that I was better or different.”
Falle also married her pimp. He said he'd marry her if she earned him a certain amount of money.
“I thought I was different from other girls,” she said. “I thought 'I was special and my pimp really does love me.'”
But really, things weren't so great. In her line of work, she'd been sexually assaulted, had a gun held to her head and been kidnapped. Her husband was also regularly violent with her.
“After those 10 years, the violence caught up with me and I started using drugs,” Falle said.
Over the next two years, she progressed from using $30 of crack a night to about $500 a night. Falle developed drug-induced schizophrenia, believing that the “conspiracy people” were going to steal her drugs.
By this point, many of her friends had died, and she felt instinctively that she was next. She left her husband and went to stay with her mom, although she was still using drugs.
On her 27th birthday, she arrived home at 4 a.m., and her mom was standing in front of her, and she didn't recognize her because she thought the conspiracy people had replaced her mom with a clone.
In one breath, Falle told her mom that she was a prostitute, her husband was her pimp, and she was on crack.
“She grabbed me, embraced me, and rocked me,” she said. “She reminded me of childhood stories growing up to reassure me that she really was my mom. She did that for hours and hours ...
“As I'm coming off the dope and looking at her face, I could see she was tired and haggard and so worried about me. She was that mom that I needed. She was that mom I needed back when I first entered prostitution.”
And that was both the ending and the beginning of Falle's story.
After leaving prostitution, she graduated from both college and university, and ended up working with Sextrade 101.
Although there are organizations supporting those who say they choose to work in the sex trade, Falle said she believes prostitution should be abolished.
She compares a prostitute to a battered woman who says she loves her abuser.
“I don't see any difference for someone involved in prostitution,” she said. “It's where they're at. It's what they've been programmed and conditioned to believe they're worth.”
Falle also asked the men in the room to take a stand against prostitution.
“Educate the men in your life that it's not OK,” she said. “Real men do not buy sex from women.”
Representatives from a number of local organizations which interact with sex trade workers, including Greater Sudbury Police, acted as panellists at the event.
They answered questions about everything from the involvement of the Children's Aid Society in child prostitution to what's being done for sexually abused children to what people should do if there's a prostitute working near their home.
Insp. Bob Keetch of the Greater Sudbury Police told the crowd that the police service has come to realize that enforcement is not the answer when it comes to prostitution.
“Arresting individuals and further victimizing them and putting them in front of the courts, is not the most effective manner to deal with this issue,” he said.
“We need to provide them the necessary supports to get them off the streets and get them on their way to being regular members of our society.”
Increasingly, Greater Sudbury Police is working with local social service agencies to get sex trade workers the help they need, Keetch said.
Still, he advises those who have issues with prostitution in their neighbourhood to pass the information along to Greater Sudbury Police, as they need to know where such activity is happening.
Bernice Hibbs, who lives on Patterson Street in the Donovan, said there used to be a lot of prostitution in her neighbourhood, but it's gotten a lot better lately through increased police presence with the Zone 30 project.
She encouraged her neighbours to contact police if they see things happening.
“I could be just one link in the chain,” Hibbs said. “But if the police don't have that information, they can't put that chain together and figure out what's happening.”
At the same time, she said she has a lot of empathy for those working in the sex trade, as she volunteers at Iris Addiction Recovery for Women.
Falle's story is “heartbreaking,” she said. “Probably the details that she's left out would shock and probably really horrify a lot of people.”
Terry Mills, who also lives in the Donovan, said she also empathizes with sex trade workers, but at the same time, she doesn't like it when they conduct their business near her home.
“I don't want it in my backyard,” she said.
“Nobody does. But I also recognize that nobody does this because it's fun. I know that there's underlying reasons, usually addiction, control and the violence that goes with it.”