From exploitation to education and beyond

November 23, 2020
Ginelle Giacomin

Healing begins with acceptance and understanding.

That’s what Royal Roads University Doctor of Social Sciences candidate Ginelle Giacomin knows from her almost 15 years working with women who have experienced sexual exploitation, violence and systematic racism.

“No one is just the one thing that you see,” Giacomin says, a researcher and post-secondary instructor in Winnipeg, Manitoba. “Everyone has a story.”

With the support of a $60,000 Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Doctoral Fellowship, Giacomin is studying the experiences of Indigenous mothers and students who have experienced trauma. Specifically, she’s interviewing women enrolled in the Ndinawe Child and Youth Care Certificate Program at Red River College—the only program of its kind to offer people the chance to transform their trauma into a career that helps prevent child exploitation.

Graduates of the program are uniquely skilled at supporting and recognizing youth at risk, Giacomin says who is also an instructor in the program.

“Trauma, sexual exploitation and abuse can inform a student as much as a textbook can.” Kathleen Manion

School of Humanitarian Studies Assoc. Prof. Kathleen Manion, who is supervising Giacomin’s research, says that while researchers don’t yet fully understand the impact of trauma, evidence shows that holistic interventions can have a domino effect for those who have experienced trauma and those around them.

“Our sense of identity and how we feel connected is so tied to how people value us and one way people value us is in our employability,” she says. “All of these messages that we get from our external world that tell us that we are valuable or not valuable really influence how we are feeling and whether we’re thriving.”

While the ripple effects of a post-secondary credential include increased financial stability, they go far beyond dollars and cents, Giacomin says.

“We have students elated because they got their kids back out of care,” she says.

Many were the first in their families to graduate. Others went on to complete their undergraduate degrees.

Giacomin already knows the program has been lifechanging for so many. Now she wants to apply an academic lens to back her theory up.

“I want to better understand how things are improving and why things are improving beyond employment stats,” she says. “I want to look at the lived experience and provide evidence for those social impacts, too.”

While her case study focuses on specific students studying in one specific program, Giacomin’s findings could inform or inspire similar trauma-related interventions around the world, Manion says.

“Ginelle’s research focuses on gathering this rich data and bringing it to the wider world. Exploring women's concepts of parental efficacy and what actually impacts that will have quite a lot of resonance in Canada and beyond.”