Valerie was 16-years-old when she started turning tricks. For two years, she sold her body, separating her real self from her working persona.

“When I would come home, I would take all my clothes off. put them away, not touch anything and go straight to the shower, do this intense shower ritual and then even wash the taps that I touched. From the moment I would step out of the tub, I would be back,” she said.

With the recent rash of runaways from a Laval group home and concerns they're being recruited by street gangs into prostitution, Valerie decided to share her story.

She says money, and the perception it’s “easy money,” is an alluring part of sex trade. She said she made “preposterous” amounts of money at 17 -- $300 to $800 a night.

“But I never had any, it would slip through my [fingers]. You hurt yourself so much to make it, whether you admit it or not, whether you’re conscious of it or not, you’re always going to feel like it’s justified to treat yourself,” she said.

She said the power is also enticing. She recounted standing on the street and thinking to herself that other women wouldn’t be able to do what she did, but realized later that it’s a false sense of power and security.

Eventually her two worlds collided and she wanted out, but to do that wasn't easy. She spent another four years dancing in strip clubs but finally reached out to CLES, a community group that helps former and current prostitutes, and slowly began leaving it behind.

“Especially if you start young, you've never had a job interview, you don't have a resume and the people who pay you for sex you identify as the same people who would be your boss, so it’s hard to think about how [to fit in],” she explained.

She said what she'd like the girls from Laval and others who may be enticed into getting into sex work to think about is the aftermath.

“In a way, when you go into something almost willingly, even if you’re coerced, you're going to hate yourself. You carry this shame and you think ‘I know where I’ve been, what if they knew? Would they fire me?'"

She said her past made it harder to connect with people – for a time, after she got out, she felt that love interests and even friends couldn’t truly love her if they didn’t know about that part of her life.

Valerie said she feels the key to helping young people is early prevention, and to not only target girls but boys as well. Better and earlier sex education in schools and teaching teens what healthy relationships look like from a young age are crucial.

“They cannot assess danger. They are not risk averse, they are risk inclined they like risk,” she said.

And she says teenagers want to hear advice from their peers or people they see as credible, not their parents. That’s why programs like "Les Survivantes," started by Montreal police and now used by Laval police are so important, she said.

Prevention is a key part of the program; former prostitutes share their stories, much like Valerie is doing. One-on-one counselling is another.

“It doesn't mean the girls will understand right away, but it gets them thinking,” said Marlene Langevin of the Laval police.

It’s been 13 years since Valerie left the sex trade but she still seeks support from CLES. She says she struggles with guilt, asking herself why she got out relatively unscathed while her friends were injured and even killed while working.

“Even if you get out of it fine, it doesn't mean you're going to sleep well. The hardest thing for me was nightmares,” she said.

Valerie has a full-time job now working at a helpline and is pursuing her passion – singing. She said she hopes that in sharing her story, she will help teenagers to avoid the path she took, and the pain it brought.