This summer CEASE (the Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation) said farewell (for now) to their fearless leader, Kate Quinn, who was appointed as Executive Director in 2011.

“I have known Kate for some time and knew her work,” says Liz John-West, the newly appointed Executive Director. “When I heard she was retiring, it was quite interesting as I was looking for a job.”  

CEASE has been a foundational activist organization in Edmonton since the 1990s. Formerly known as the Prostitution Awareness and Action Foundation of Edmonton (PAAFE), CEASE has been a staunch advocate for women and children who have been exploited or trafficked in and around the greater Edmonton area.

Liz John-West (new CEASE Exec. Dir.) & Kate Quinn (retiring Exec. Dir.) | Molly Staley.

John-West has worked with and for women since early on in her career: “I worked with women who were sexually exploited, and that job [kind of] started in a roundabout way at the Bissell Centre. My clientele included a lot of women who were exploited. During the early 2000s, many women were missing and murdered in Edmonton, and unfortunately, the number is rising.” 

John-West approached her work from a project care perspective; she developed integral relationships with city, community, and neighbourhood partners. She has always felt it is essential to get to know the women and children experiencing life on the street and understand their daily lives from their perspectives. “I was always working to address women being exploited on the street [including] significant abuse they experience,” says John-West.

John-West moved into various positions throughout her career, always with community well-being in mind. She says the position at CEASE was “like returning to my roots.” 

“CEASE builds hope, respect, and transformation for those impacted by sexual exploitation and sex trafficking in Edmonton and area,” says John-West. CEASE programs are three-pronged: heal the harm, build for the future, and champion social equality. This work requires counselling, legal support, education, and other services to promote independence among victims, which is critical for separating themselves from the trauma and dangerous situations.

In June, CEASE was invited to Poland by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights to participate in training for civil society and frontline responders on addressing human trafficking risks in light of military attacks in Ukraine. John-West shared, “The training in Warsaw was about the vulnerability of women in Ukraine during the time of war…so many women and children are leaving the country for the first time, going to new counties, not speaking the language, and trying to navigate those systems. In a sense, some of them are sitting ducks.” 

John-West admits that although the content is familiar to her, it was an exhaustive and disheartening reminder of the reality that, globally, many vulnerable people end up being exploited for others’ gains. “I want to use this [training] as a stepping stone to look at other nations like Afghanistan and other African countries, where we could do more work.”

Quinn paved the way for people like John-West to flourish in an industry that sees only beauty in stories of recovery, determination, success, and escape. John-West’s path ahead is not easy, but with the support of an incredible organization, and other integral partners, the expanding work of CEASE may be possible. 

“The root of the work of CEASE is street exploitation. Exploitation is coming back with a vengeance. There are more women on our streets, and more men are driving around to buy their services…I have received requests from organizations saying, ‘We need your help, Liz.'”