Part Three: Ottawa Undecided on Next Step
Although the federal action plan expires next month, the new Liberal government has yet to say whether it will make the battle against trafficking a priority. Public Safety Canada, now led by veteran minister Ralph Goodale, declined an interview request and said the new government is currently determining its “next steps” based on experience gained from the action plan about to expire.
Still, the issue has already surfaced in consultations to prepare for a national inquiry on the more than 1,200 missing or murdered indigenous women.
The majority of those women – 88 per cent, according to the RCMP – were not involved in the sex trade. But Dawn Lavell-Harvard, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), feels that human trafficking “can’t help but become part of the inquiry,” if it is to be a comprehensive one.
Anyone who is sexually exploited faces a much higher risk of social isolation and, she says, is “much more likely to end up being murdered and to experience extreme violence.”
Beatrice Wallace-Littlechief is one such victim. Her mother and grandparents went to residential schools, and she was placed in foster care when very young, then adopted at 5 into a white middle-class home in Regina.
Beatrice Wallace-Littlechief says she was forced into the sex trade at 13. ‘Somewhere along the line,’ she came to believe ‘it was okay to get beat by men.’ (May Truong for The Globe and Mail)
Pain still evident in her voice, Ms. Wallace-Littlechief says she suffered “all kinds of abuse,” was called “a dirty squaw” and “an ugly Indian” – both in her adoptive home and at school. Shame set in.
Tired of being beaten, she fought back, and for doing so, was sent to a group home when she was about 13. Several weeks later, she and another girl ran away from the home, and wound up in a house with two men who “saw fresh meat.” She was introduced to injection drugs – and raped. “They were prepping me for the streets,” she says.
Found by the authorities, she was returned to a group home, only to run away again and fall into the hands of pimps. They broke into a house where she was living, beat her and forced her to work the streets – and hand over everything she earned.
“They threatened me with my life,” she says. “I was terrified of them.” The threat of violence was constant, she says, whether from a pimp, a bad date or a boyfriend.
Now, at 43, she also looks younger, but still bears the marks of having been on the streets: “I have scars on both my eyes, from being punched shut. My nose has been broken twice. My mouth is scarred up, inside and out. My nose was ripped off, and took seven stitches to close. I was stabbed and I have a scar on my hand from a different knife incident.”
One mark cannot be seen: “The very first time is ingrained in my head. It’s as if someone took all my dignity… Right then I realized I was nothing.”
By 16, she was not only pregnant but, “somewhere along the line, I thought it was okay to get beat by men.”
*Published on February 10, 2016