September Student Profile: Sharing the Voices of Victims with Kaylee Perez

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

This is the fifth installment of a monthly feature on the PACS website. This monthly profile of PACS and MPACS students will give a small snapshot into the pursuits and experiences of our students.

close-up of Kaylee PerezKaylee Perez, currently an MPACS student at Conrad Grebel, has always been interested in cross-cultural interactions and global issues. Following high school, Kaylee took a year off to attend a Servant Leadership Institute, which led her to major in Global studies at Wilfred Laurier University. During her undergrad, she completed an international and a local field placement, first interning for 3 months at a refugee centre in South Africa and then returning to volunteer with the Mennonite Coalition for Refugee Support, where she now works as a case worker.

While her focus during her undergrad was concerning refugees, another path appeared when she had the opportunity to work on a documentary on human trafficking in Romania during her 4th year. This trip acted as a ‘spark’, and when she returned to Canada, she decided to do an MPACS with a focus on human trafficking in a Canadian context. Kaylee decided to concentrate on human trafficking in the local community because it’s this “dark, kind of scary part of our community that people don’t really know about”.  One of her main goals is to raise awareness about this issue that is so close to home, yet remains so hidden and increase support for victims in the area.

Kaylee recently completed her MPACS internship with Walk with Me Canada Victim Services, a 24-hour mobile victim care unit and a short-term safe house for victims of human trafficking in Canada.  A human trafficking survivor, Ms. Timea Eva Nagy, founded the organization, which currently provides immediate care to the largest number of human trafficking victims in the country. While at Walk with Me, Kaylee designed a marketing package, outlining basic information about human trafficking, Walk with Me, and how donors could help. A big challenge that Kaylee encountered while at Walk with Me was the financial struggle of an NGO. She remarks, “how do you sell hope instead of fear, yet present the reality of what’s going on?”  To combat this, Kaylee put together different types of donation packages and initiated the creation of an ambassador program. For Kaylee, it was all a matter of creativity and how you frame the need: when donors are able to provide something concrete, they can imagine the difference it will make.

Kaylee’s most memorable moment was volunteering at the safe house and spending time with the girls there, whether it was baking cookies or just watching a movie.  Kaylee will always remember the first girl she met at the safe house, who wanted to know what had happened to her trafficker after he had attempted to kill her. After looking up his name in Google and reading through the list of news reports, the girl said, ‘I really miss him’. In that moment, Kaylee realized “how psychologically entrapped these women become… [the traffickers] manipulate girls to fall in love with them, and it is this distorted sense of love, fuelled by fear, that keeps them trapped”.

Kaylee’s internship with Walk with Me has shaped her future plans after completing her final term in the MPACS program.  Her final project is a proposal for a documentary she plans to work on after graduation that looks at the voices of human trafficking in the region and how they can be heard more effectively.  In the documentary she wants to look at the distinction yet connected nature of human trafficking and prostitution. Kaylee feels that the voices of the pro-sex workers often override the voices of sex trafficked victims who have been forced into this field. She explains,

While pro-sex workers claim to ‘choose’ this field, their ‘pro-choice’ voice inevitably represents the countless sex trafficked victims trapped in this field. Are pro-sex workers aware of this? At what point in one’s life does one choose this field? If the public understood the different yet connected nature of prostitution and sex trafficking, would the voices of sex trafficked victims be heard more effectively?.

Through the documentary, Kaylee hopes to develop a dialogue between the two voices so that both can be heard and better understood.  She also has plans to develop a long-term trauma recovery centre for victims of human trafficking, as there is currently only one in all of Canada focused on the needs of this population. This currently represents a gap within Canadian victim services, and Kaylee seeks to fill it with the vision of breaking cycles of violence.

In terms of an MPACS internship, Kaylee found the experience incredibly rewarding. She has not only been able to apply her experience to her masters but also to her work afterwards. She highly recommends a local placement, such as Walk With Me, because it gets you more in touch with your own community and creates long-term networks that can be helpful when looking for jobs in the future. Kaylee also recommends building a strong relationship with your internship mentor, who has lots of wisdom that can be incredibly valuable. Her final piece of advice is that, “whatever you do, do it with a good attitude and be passionate. When you do something with passion, people notice”.