Métis high school student beats the odds to graduate

Judging by the poses during her graduation celebration with family, you’d say Carissa Chaput is just another student finishing up high school and getting ready for the next step in life.

But the 19-year-old’s life has a dark side that made her graduation not only a surprise – but a long shot.

Chaput was the victim of sexual abuse growing up. It started when she was five years old. She was also held in a house for a year and trafficked in Winnipeg.

“I was sexually assaulted, I was human trafficked at a young age.  A lot of things happened to me.  I was starved, I was abused.  They kind of gave up on me,” Chaput said. “It hurts, but I’m getting through it each day and becoming the woman I wanted to be.”

Chaput’s mother voluntarily put her in child and family services thinking she was doing the right thing to keep Carissa safe.

“CFS needs to check on these children more than once a year.  I’ve heard of so many stories like my daughter’s,” Kim Chaput said.

Chaput is grateful for Carissa’s most recent foster parents, Rachel and Matt Willan, who learned of Carissa through the work they do with youth in Winnipeg and took her under their wing. Rachel said they worked hard to get Carissa to graduation.

“Through Matt and I getting her to school. Pushing her, pushing her, she had a good support system at school. There was a lot of hiccups along the way, she just needed re-direction,” Willan said.  “She kept us busy in the beginning but we have a beautiful ending.”

Willan said she thinks it’s important to highlight the milestones youth are having.

“It’s amazing to see-you know the brokenness that they come from to the beauty of the graduation.”

Willan said there are many more young people at risk like Carissa in the community.

“Carissa was just one of thousands of females that are exploited-and males really-in the city (Winnipeg) We have lots that are exploited, more than anybody can even count.  And I think it’s up to us as adults to ensure we’re fulfilling our obligations to our youth.”

Willan feels change is needed with how child and family services operates.

“How come it took me to step in, and how come the mother of Carissa couldn’t be supported.  Because it’s all about the mighty dollar,” Willan said.

Carissa’s experiences have given her an empathetic heart and she plans to go into social work.

“I’m going because I want to help the children in need. Women, men, boys, girls, you know, anything I can do.”

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