Part Four: Product of Colonization
For many indigenous women, trafficking is part of a continuum of violence that has deep roots and has left them with far higher rates of abuse and exploitation.
“Just by being born aboriginal in this country, you are at risk – you don’t even need to engage in a high-risk lifestyle,” says Yvonne Boyer, who co-wrote the 2014 report for Public Safety Canada and holds the Canada Research Chair in Aboriginal Health and Wellness at Brandon University.
She calls the problem “part of a Canadian crisis,” and says it is “all the product of colonization and what we have left over in this country.”
Many factors increase the vulnerability of aboriginal women to trafficking. Studies have shown that most victims have already been abused, while many have been taken into care. Indigenous girls and women are far more likely to have experienced both.
Other contributing factors include the intergenerational trauma that resulted from the residential-school system, systemic racism and grinding poverty, along with poor housing, limited educational opportunities, high rates of violence more broadly, and a lack of culturally relevant support services.
“I WAS HUNGRY, AND SO I DID WHAT I DID SO I COULD EAT. IT WAS A MEANS OF SURVIVAL.”
– JUANITA MURPHY, A SURVIVOR OF SEX TRAFFICKING WHO WORKS WITH SEXUALLY VICTIMIZED YOUTH AT CEASE IN EDMONTON
In a landmark ruling last month, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found that the federal government has discriminated against aboriginal people by its chronic under-funding of child-welfare services on reserves. (Government documents have pegged the gap for welfare on reserves at 22 to 34 per cent.)
Eight of the nine sex-trafficking survivors who spoke to The Globe and Mail were abused as children. Six spent time in group homes or foster care. Seven have parents or close relatives who went through Canada’s residential schools (the remaining two couldn’t say for sure).
Edmonton’s Juanita Murphy also had to grapple with fallout from the residential-school experience. She says her Cree mother “did the best she could” but was so traumatized by her upbringing that she fell prey to addiction and, eventually, took her own life.
In care from the time she was an infant, Ms. Murphy lived in a series of foster and group homes, and so was “raised around exploitation.”
One man offered $20 if she would pull up her shirt. She was 9.
At 10, she was “sold to a pedophile,” she says. He used threats and beatings to abuse her on a regular basis for years, at times handcuffing her to a bed and injecting her with drugs. Spiralling into addiction, she spent years on the streets.
“I was hungry, and so I did what I did so I could eat,” she explains. “It was a means of survival.”
*Published on February 10, 2016