An interview with Casandra Diamond, founder of BridgeNorth, a charity in York Region, Ontario, working to end sexual exploitation.
Republished with permission from the autumn 2018 issue of Thrive. Interview by Dan Shurr, director of Fellowship Aid and International Relief. Original title “The Dangers of a Sexualized Society.” Photo courtesy Casandra Diamond.
Read more on these issues at TheEFC.ca/HumanTrafficking.
Dan Shurr: Life was not always easy for you. How many years were you trapped and trafficked?
Casandra Diamond: By the time I was eight years old I had amassed nine abusers, one rapist, and a convicted multi-generational pedophile: my maternal grandfather. When I was 17, a friend invited me to start stripping with her. I saw it as a way that I could have apparent power over men, getting back at those who had hurt me.
That’s when I met the man who would become my trafficker. Our relationship started as a friendship. I was bonded to him; I felt that for the first time in my life there was someone who cared enough to protect me, and to be there for me. He coerced me to work in a massage parlour, which really was just a front for a brothel. At 27 years of age, after being trapped in this life for 10 years, he was done with me and I could finally leave this industry that had seemingly taken every last ounce of my dignity and self-worth.
When and how did you respond to the gospel?
I look back and realize that God has always been part of my story. However, it wasn’t until I had exited the sex industry that I heard God’s voice and responded by asking Him for salvation. When I walked away from the sex industry I had nothing, I was at rock-bottom. I found a Bible and opened it. I turned my head to the heavens and I cried out to God. I told him how desperate I was, that I had gotten myself into this terrible mess — that my life had amounted to nothing. This time God led me to Psalm 102, where I read the words:
Hear my prayer, Lord; let my cry for help come to you. Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress. Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly. In my distress I groan aloud and am reduced to skin and bones.
I dropped to my knees and I asked the Lord to either kill me or save me because at that point even breathing was excruciating for me. Something changed that day, and I stopped feeling the extreme emotions that had been plaguing me. He took the “overwhelming” away from me and carried that burden Himself. The freedom that I felt that day, and every day since, is unparalleled.
God has given you a heart for women trapped in this lifestyle. Can you speak to that?
After getting out of the industry in 2004, I spent two years healing physically and emotionally, getting to know myself and God. After this time of healing, I realized that I had to go back to the women and girls that I knew from the sex industry and tell them about the freedom and hope that I had found in Jesus. I wanted to tell them that nothing else would solve their problems. God did not give me so much a heart for the girls, but a heart for Him. That is how I love the women and girls with whom I work. I introduce them to Jesus. Only He will give them true freedom.
What is BridgeNorth? What does it do and provide?
BridgeNorth Women’s Mentorship and Advocacy Services is a survivor-founded, survivor-led, charitable organization dedicated to seeing the end of sexual exploitation in Canada. Through meeting physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs, BridgeNorth pursues its mission to restore the inherent dignity and value of sexually exploited women and girls.
BridgeNorth fulfills its mission by providing direct service and mentorship to women, girls and families affected by the sex industry; [providing] public education and awareness by training the public and professionals to recognize, prevent, respond to, and combat sexual exploitation; and [by providing] advocacy for women, girls, and families affected by the sex industry.
Can you share the story of a woman helped by BridgeNorth?
[The real name of this girl has been changed to protect her privacy and identity. However, we do have permission to share her story.]
Hope was sexually abused by her father for as long as she could remember. At the age of 11, he started selling her to other men. When she was about 16 she called a crisis hotline and they referred her to BridgeNorth. When we first started working with Hope, she was addicted to drugs, intensely self-harming and suicidal. She had tried reaching out for help before but had really struggled to find a program that could help her. We could see that she wanted to break free from her drug addictions and experience freedom from the sex trade.
We began advocating on her behalf and got her into an addiction facility. Initially, Hope was opposed to any conversation about God. However, as time went on, she began asking about the Lord. When she left that facility having officially broken her addiction to drugs, she was wearing the cross around her neck and had a Bible in her luggage. Hope is presently living independently and is pursuing her dream of going back to school to become a paramedic — so that she can help others who are hurting.
Can you comment on the partnership between BridgeNorth and [the Baptist charity] FAIR? When did this come about and why?
A couple of years ago BridgeNorth had grown to the point where it needed to become a structured organization. A woman named Gioia Stover had called me and wanted to help with BridgeNorth. Gioia began contacting other organizations to see if there was one that BridgeNorth could join with. There was one Christian organization Gioia contacted that responded to our call: The Fellowship [of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Canada]. We were put in contact with the FAIR (Fellowship Aid and International Relief) department, where we spoke with FAIR director Dan Shurr. He asked more specifically about the ministry and work of BridgeNorth, and then something incredible happened: they said yes.
How can churches contact you? And how can they get involved in their communities to stop these criminal activities?
Through our website: BridgeNorth.org, email: [email protected], telephone: 905-895-9065, or through Facebook.com/BridgeNorth. We are looking for individuals/churches to help educate and raise awareness about the realities of human trafficking through activities and campaigns. We also welcome any church to partner with us financially to help further our mission.
We have a prayer sponsorship network which enables individuals to “sponsor” specific girls through upholding them in prayer. They receive monthly updates to help them pray more specifically. We have seen miraculous things happen for the girls who accept prayer on their behalf — all to God’s glory. If anyone is interested in joining our prayer sponsorship network they can send an email to [email protected].
* This interview has been edited and condensed for publication. It was originally published in the autumn 2018 issue of Thrive (www.Thrive-Magazine.ca) under the title “The Dangers of a Sexualized Society” and is republished with permission.