Fighting against the sexual exploitation of children through dance
TEXT ME is a contemporary ballet by Winnipeg-based choreographer Philippe Jacques that brings to life one of the inaugural exhibits of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR). This exhibit can be found in the “Protecting Rights in Canada” gallery and it focuses on Beyond Borders’ fight against the sexual exploitation of children. The ballet is a collaboration born out of an idea shared by Rosalind Prober, founder and former president of Beyond Borders, Jacques and myself, the curator of the exhibit.
I first started working against the sexual exploitation of children in 2006 when I moved to Guatemala to work with an organization mandated to protect the rights of street children in Central America. I was assigned to a research project aimed at creating educational materials. This research was intended to influence elected officials into adopting stronger laws to protect children from being trafficked and sexually exploited. I spent months reading the stories of the girls rescued by our organization from brothels, massage parlours, strip clubs, restaurants and even private houses. I tried to find clues on how they were being exploited, the regions from where they were being trafficked, the perpetrators’ modus operandi, the survivors’ ages, their social status or anything that could help me convince whoever wanted to listen of the need for tougher laws and sanctions.
The stories I read could have easily been taken from the darkest and sickest horror films imaginable. However, these were not fiction and the protagonists weren’t actors - they were all very real. These stories still haunt me today. This has been the toughest job I’ve ever done but it has also been the most rewarding. It was a life-changing experience that made me commit myself to always make a difference with the work I do.
When I started working for the CMHR back in 2010, sexual exploitation of children was one of the topics I wanted to show in the exhibits I was going to be working on. It didn’t take long for me to find the names of Rosalind Prober and Beyond Borders, Canada’s global voice against child sexual exploitation during my research. Early on, I was able to conduct oral histories with both founders, Rosalind and Mark Hecht. As part of my research I also travelled to Vancouver to interview grass roots workers and activists such as Diane Sowden and Camila Jimenez. These oral histories informed the development of the exhibit and they also informed Jacques’ ballet TEXT ME. In Jacques’ own words: “Though this story is fictitious, I did not make any part of it up. I had access to oral histories from activists who work against the sexual exploitation of children, as well as the knowledge of Beyond Borders.”
This work “follows the story of a teen like any other, manipulated into sexual exploitation. From cajolement to coercion, we shadow her seasoning into the sex trade, until her ultimate escape.” Beautifully danced by the aspirants of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School, TEXT ME was able to reach a new audience for Beyond Borders and Jacques at the 2015 Winnipeg Fringe Festival. The fight against sexual exploitation of children resonated with festival-goers who kept filling the seats and critics who gave TEXT ME five stars out of five.
TEXT ME is proof that the Museum’s exhibits are relevant to today’s social realities. These exhibits are organic and in constant evolution. Through their growth in community collaboration, they are reaching outside the Museum’s walls.