VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Solutions to the tragedy of the Saskatchewan sex trade
Monday, August 19, 2002
The third annual day of mourning was held last week for workers in the sex trade who have been killed or gone missing. One of the ceremonies included the reading of a list of names of young women who have been killed or are missing. The reading of the list is haunting and makes the missing women a reality. These are real people who had friends and family who loved them.
To the general public, this is a lifestyle that most people can't understand or chose to ignore. For us it is a part of the sad reality of being aboriginal in Saskatchewan. Those women who went missing are our relatives.
This is the sad result of the legacy of racism, boarding schools and poverty. Indian women can be beaten up and killed with very little public outcry. Somehow they are not important.
This was made very clear a few years ago when serial killer John Crawford killed three women in Saskatoon and one in Lethbridge, Alta. The women were aboriginal and he was tried and given a life sentence with little fanfare. At the same time, Paul Bernardo was being tried for the killing of two young women in Ontario. The Bernardo case grabbed national headlines. Crawford, on the other hand, received little press outside the province. Today, Bernardo's name is a household word but Crawford is forgotten. It's a sad testament to the value society places on aboriginal women.
Today, young Indian women continue to suffer and die on the mean streets of this province's cities. When you see a young woman on the streets, she represents only the tip of the iceberg. Behind her are pimps and hangers-on who are eager to take the money she earns and use it for drugs. There is also a large group of johns who want younger and younger Indian girls. It's a vicious circle of supply and demand economics. The demand is for drugs and sex and the supply is Indian girls.
The source of the problem lies mainly with men, both white and aboriginal, who continue to perpetuate this soul-destroying lifestyle.
Former prostitutes have told me how they jumped from speeding cars, how they were taken out of town and beaten and raped, how they lived in constant fear for their lives. One young woman told me that she was always cold and hungry and the money she earned was mostly spent by other people. She, too, faced the constant threat of violence from the johns.
So what are the possible solutions to this social and personal tragedy?
First, it should be socially and criminally repugnant to try and get sex from underage girls. Vehicles should be seized and heavy fines and jail sentences imposed by the courts. Procurring sex from a child is a serious offence and it should be treated as such.
Second, pimps should be hunted down and charged with serious consequences for their actions. Sexually exploiting children and young women is a crime against humanity and it should be treated as such. When I see Indian men involved in the sex trade as pimps, it disgusts me. Our ancestors were warriors and protectors of the women and children. They were worthy men. Today, they are leeches and weaklings.
The police and courts are addressing the first two issues and making it harder for people to profit or participate in the sex trade. More should be done and the law enforcement agencies are on the right track.
The third solution lies in the legalization and regulation of the sex trade. Paid sex between consenting adults is not against the law; communicating for the purposes of obtaining sex through a commercial transaction is against the law. With legalization, the sex trade could be regulated, sexually transmitted diseases could be controlled, and women wouldn't be treated as criminals and they could rely on the police for protection. As it now stands, prostitutes operate outside the law and see the police as enemies rather than friends. The key here is that they must be adults over the age of 21. Sex trade workers under the age of 21 should be placed in custody and given opportunities for drug rehabilitation and counselling. Prostitutes should be treated as victims and not as criminals.
We don't need any more days of mourning. We don't need parents and family looking for their children, or identifying bodies in the morgue. We need a society that is safe for women and children and we need to take back our streets and neighbourhoods.
- Doug Cuthand is a freelance writer based in Saskatoon.
© Copyright 2002 The Leader-Post (Regina)
Updated: August 21, 2016