Former runaway helps victims of human trafficking sleep tight

By Natasha McKenty

Meaghan Martin vividly recalls the night she fled the tiny cottage her family called home. On that frigid February evening, her mother was drinking “as usual.” An argument about doing dishes took a turn for the worse. The cabin, more of a short-term solution for neglecting to pay the previous landlord, was too small to escape her mother’s abuse.

For Martin, who was just 14, that night would mark the end of this vicious cycle. She had already contacted a social worker and orchestrated a plan to leave if the abuse continued.

“This gave me an out,” she said. “I pushed her away from me. She then grabbed me, and all I remember was being on the bed, with her on top of me, grabbing and hitting me. I finally just shoved her off of me, and since I already had my shoes on, I ran out the door.”

With only the (thin wool) sweater on her back, she ran to a neighbouring friend. “The cold air was biting at my skin,” she remembered.

A call to the “Children’s Aid” to report what had happened brought relief.

“They instructed that I stay with my friend for the night, and tomorrow someone would be by to pick me up,” she recalled. “I didn't expect that to be in a police car.” In the morning, she was greeted by the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP).

“To top it off, because the social worker came with the OPP officer, I had to sit in the back.”

As she watched the small town go by, from the backseat window, she worried about what people would think, mostly concerned about the kids at school who had already made a habit of singling her out.

She arrived at her first foster home on her fifteenth birthday.

“They took me to Zellers to pick out some essentials like hygiene products, underwear, and pajamas,” she explained. “When we got back, they baked a small cake for me.”

It was the first night she remembered knowing what the term ‘sleep tight’ meant, which would become the inspiration for the Sleep Tight campaign she launched in 2014.

“I was scared and yet putting on a fresh new pair of pajamas gave me a sense of warmth, comfort and hope,” she said. “I wanted to give that same feeling to those in similar situations. I wanted them to know they aren't alone.”

Sleep Tight began with a social media post asking for pajamas for women rescued from human trafficking. Often, they enter safe houses and shelters with nothing but the clothing on their backs.

The idea came to her while watching a documentary called 'Red Light Green Light,' “which focused on the issue of sex trafficking around the world – including Canada.”

“I remembered paralleling it to the time I entered my first foster home,” she reflected.

Martin eventually collected over 10,000 pairs of pajamas.

The fundraiser evolved into a PJ Party, hosted at the Hacienda Sierra and attended by Waterloo Region’s elite. Over $23,000 was raised. The proceeds went to Restorations Second Stage Homes (Restorations), an organization providing safe homes for human trafficking survivors.

Seven years later, Sleep Tight has supported the Sexual Assault Support Centre, Restorations, Victim Services Waterloo Region, Halton and Peel Victim Services and C.A.S., as well as Mill Courtland Community Centre.

“But I can't mention these organizations without also acknowledging the people that made it happen,” she admits. “The success of Sleep Tight is because a community came together in support of my idea.

“Their giving spirit gave over 10,000 people a sense of comfort and hope.”

Despite the obstacles she faces during the pandemic, the stories of the impact Sleep Tight has had continues to motivate her.  

“It only takes a small idea to make a big difference,” she said.

Recently, the government announced an initiative to work with ONroute “to provide more awareness and education to [truck] drivers so they can identify human trafficking,” Martin added. “The 400 series highways are a corridor for traffickers, and by improving ONroute's with more cameras, lighting and posters [and] providing the Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline, more lives will be saved.”

Find out how you can help here.

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