Waking up to plight of hookers
Disappearance a national disgrace
By ANDREW HANON -- For the Edmonton Sun
Friday, June 25, 2004
It will come as little comfort to the family of Rachel Quinney or the
hundreds of other women who have vanished from the streets of Prairie cities,
but at last there is some good coming from their tragedies: acknowledgment.
Muriel Stanley-Venne, president of the Edmonton-based Institute for the
Advancement of Aboriginal Women, said that she is finally seeing widespread
recognition that the disappearance of street prostitutes is a national disgrace.
She hopes that perhaps now something can be done to address the social causes
that lead women into that world.
"We still have a long way to go," she said. "But the first thing that must
happen before any problem is addressed is awareness. We're finally at that
The mere fact that this issue has captured the attention of the media and the
public is a sign of progress. And by and large, the way it's covered is
encouraging. Take, for example, Sun scribe Doug Beazley's heartfelt reporting of
Quinney's funeral in the tiny town of Frog Lake, which allowed her family the
opportunity to describe the 19-year-old before she got lost on the streets of
Edmonton. Such coverage helps the public to see the victims of these crimes not
as merely dead hookers, but as real people whose potential was cut short through
no fault of their own.
It wasn't that long ago that such interest and compassion didn't exist. Just ask
journalist and author Warren Goulding, whose 2001 book, Just Another Indian - A
Serial Killer and Canada's Indifference, chronicled the horrific exploits of
John Martin Crawford, probably the most prolific mass murderer of
which you've never heard.
Crawford is presently in Saskatchewan Penitentiary in Prince Albert for savagely
raping, torturing and killing three Prairie prostitutes in the early 1990s. In
the early 1980s he was convicted of manslaughter for another killing. He is
suspected of other similar crimes.
One would think, with Crawford's impressive body count, that he'd enjoy the same
perverse celebrity as Clifford Olsen or Paul Bernardo, but hardly anyone has
ever heard of him. Goulding thinks he knows why. All of Crawford's victims were
native women and street prostitutes.
The underlying inference is that the victims aren't significant enough to
warrant attention, that they are partly to blame for their own deaths and
therefore don't deserve our compassion. As the sister of one of Crawford's
victims put it, "It seems that any time a native is murdered, it isn't a major
case. It's just another dead Indian."
Crawford's 1996 trial was largely ignored by the national media, who at the time
were transfixed by another unfolding horror story, this one involving a
beautiful white woman. Melissa Carpenter had been abducted from her Surrey, B.C.
home and the hunt for her was played out on the nightly news. All of Canada held
its breath and prayed for her, and when her body was discovered a few weeks
later we all wept alongside her family.
When his book was released three years ago, Goulding said to me, "It sounds
horrible, and I don't want to minimize what happened to Melissa or what her
family went through, but why does the national consciousness kick into high gear
when this happens to a white person and not when the victims are native women?"
At long last, times are changing. And what's most encouraging to Stanley-Venne
is that it's coming from within the native community.
"There's almost a groundswell, or revolution in thought among (aboriginal)
women," she said.
"We realized that things were bad, but we didn't think that we could do anything
to change it. We're coming together, and now we're no longer willing to believe
that we to accept these things."
Just Another Indian-By