Shona Stewart was prostituted and trafficked for 16 years before becoming a pastor. Last year, she started Dignity House, a ministry that helps women leave the sex trade. Photo by Aaron Epp

Prostitute-turned-pastor helps sex trade workers build new lives

WINNIPEG, MB—A new safe house in Winnipeg aims to help women leave the sex trade.

Shona Stewart founded Dignity House last year. Stewart, a pastor and counsellor who herself was prostituted and trafficked for 16 years, aims to create a stable home environment where women can build a new way of life.

From addiction, to mental health concerns, to family issues, to not knowing any other way of life, women leaving the sex trade face a variety of different obstacles, Stewart says. It typically takes numerous attempts to get out before a woman leaves it behind entirely.

Working in the sex trade “negatively affects the mental, spiritual and emotional aspects of the person,” Stewart says. “It’s a huge journey for these women [to get out]. There’s so much for them to go through and overcome.”

The house can accommodate up to three women. A house manager is also on-site full-time to assist.

To help women along the way, they are taught necessary skills to enable them to live healthy lives. They are counselled, discipled, educated to become employable and loved each step of the way by Stewart as well as the house manager.

Stewart also runs group sessions out of Exchange Community Church that are open to women outside of the house who wish to leave the sex trade. These groups include PEARL (Prostitutes Exiting And Restoring Life), an ongoing workshop to help women in recovery from the sex trade. Sessions also include Alpha courses, addiction relapse prevention groups, workshops about nutrition as well as opportunities for women “to talk about life’s big questions.”

Becoming a Christian was key to Stewart’s recovery from the sex trade, and teaching women about Jesus Christ is a prominent focus of the Dignity House ministry.

“We walk along where they’re at and teach them who He is—show them who He is,” Stewart says. “These girls don’t have a concept of who God is … but they know they need a higher power because [often] they’ve been through Alcoholics Anonymous.”

Dignity House was started with the support of Cornerstone Alliance Church, Kilcona Partk Alliance Church and Defend Dignity, a campaign of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada that aims to abolish prostitution in Canada.

Stewart asks people to prayerfully consider what they can do about human trafficking and prostitution, which she says are the same.

“I want people to understand the connection,” she says, adding that women in the sex trade have been coerced into prostitution, if not by an individual than by the dire life circumstances they face where they feel they have no other option.

She tells of one woman Dignity House has worked with who now has a job, a car, a place to live, a church to go to and gets to see her child on occasion.

“Is she doing perfectly? No, but she’s come a long way.”

For Stewart, working with women in the sex trade is about celebrating each success along the way. Some of the women she has worked with have slipped back into the sex trade, but they still phone or visit Stewart when they need somewhere to turn.

“Even little things, like that they still contact me, are successes,” Stewart says. “That they know there’s somewhere to go—that’s a success.”

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About the author

Special to ChristianWeek

Aaron Epp is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer, Musical Routes columnist, and former Senior Correspondent for ChristianWeek.

About the author