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Why Hitchhiking is a Risky Road for Aboriginal Women

Posted: 12/12/2013 5:26 pm

My wife and I lived in Duncan, B.C, about three years ago. As we were driving home one evening, we noticed a young girl hitchhiking. It was late at night, cold, and raining outside. She was young, First Nations, and not dressed for the weather. As we stopped to pick her up, we noticed a white truck stop on the other side of the road, and two guys got out and walked towards her.

We cut them off, and told her to hop in. We drove her deeper and deeper into the woods, onto dirt roads with no street lighting. She told us her story -- 17 years old, First Nations, tough upbringing. She had been at a family function, but no one offered her a ride home. She hitchhiked regularly, and on nights where she didn't get a ride, it would take her over two hours to get home. This was just weeks after the gruesome murder of Tyesha Jones, and we dropped her off within kilometres of where the body had been found. We wrote to the local paper, and it made the front page.

A few weeks later, that same local newspaper reported the attempted abduction of a 17-year-old girl, on the same road, by men in a white truck.

Fast-forward to last night. My wife and I run a charity that fights sex trafficking. Vulnerability matters greatly to us, and systemic injustice matters even more. We're back on Vancouver Island, visiting friends for the holidays and sharing our new documentary about how to prevent sex trafficking. Last night, we screened our film in Nanaimo, and on our way home we noticed a young girl, hitchhiking.

It was cold, past midnight, and this girl was young. Really young. We picked her up, and heard her story: eighth grade, no dad, abusive mom, bouncing around in the foster care system. Lives in Victoria. No ride home. First Nations.

No options.

Not knowing what to do, we called the Kid's Help Phone. I spoke with a less-than-enthused worker who shared little interest in the situation and was far more interested in complaining about her life than helping me find a someone to get this girl home safely. Through a long series of events, the local police and the foster parent picked her up shortly before 2 a.m., and she got home safely.

It hit me this morning: this is déjà vu all over again. Nothing has changed in Duncan. First Nations girls are no less vulnerable than when we left three years ago. I've come to believe that injustices exist because we, as a society, allow them to exist. Until the people of the Cowichan Valley -- and people all over Canada -- demand better from our leaders, nothing will change, and Aboriginal girls will continue to go missing in record numbers, numbers that already concern the U.N.

Until then, I guess I'll just keep watching the local newspaper.

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