Now she works on the front lines of Canada’s underground trafficking trade, running a foster home for sexually exploited girls in Manitoba—but she once lived the life of those she now helps. One survivor recounts her harrowing journey into the trade and out. As told to Susan McClelland.
My parents were married until I was about six. My mother was a drinker—beer and the hard stuff. My dad has schizophrenia. He gets paranoid delusions and my mom fooled around on him. We all just woke up one day and she was gone. I didn’t see my mother again until I was 10. My mother was in the 60s Scoop program [which took native children away from their families to be raised by non-natives]. My maternal grandmother had 12 kids, and 11 were taken away from her. That’s her background.
When I was young, my dad tried really hard to be a good dad. He sent us all to a private Christian school and he kept going back to school to learn a trade. But as I aged, he became more and more delusional.
I was the only aboriginal kid in my class at school. Even when I made friends, I didn’t fit in. My friends lived in mansions. I lived in a shack. In grade six, my math teacher kept on me that I wasn’t doing it right. I got so mad, I threw a chair at her. My dad didn’t show up to discus the incident because he was working, so I was all alone when the principal asked me why I did it. “Because I hate the bitch.” I was outta there. Expelled.
I went back to public school for a bit. I met new kids. They were all bused in, ghetto kids. To them, I was now the rich one. These kids came from the wrong side of the track and were bad influences. I started smoking when I was with them. By this time, too, I was spending lots of time with my mom again. My mom was drinking every day and it became easy to steal beer and money from her. I had lots of freedom to come and go as I please. On my travels downtown, I met these three girls and we became tight.
How did I become an exploited youth? The summer I was 13, before I started grade nine, I went with my new friends to a lot of house parties. There are 12 streets downtown that one gang runs. One of my girl’s brothers was in the gang. Another one of my girls was a gang groupie.
One night, the four of us were hanging out at the Pink, a parking lot behind a laundromat. It’s where the gang hangs and we were hoping someone would tell us where the party was. No one came, though. Us girls called a chat line for some fun. We eventually had this guy from outside the area come and get us to take us to a party. He arrived with some friends. One of my girls took off, she got scared. But the rest of us took off with these new guys. We were drinking, taking mushrooms and smoking weed in the car. At this house party, someone slipped one of my friends something in her drink. She couldn’t walk.
When my girlfriend passed out, I called my friend and told her to come and get us. She arrived with this gang guy named Jay.
Jay was about 26 and after that we went to house parties with him. All of my friends and I didn’t want to stay where we were. So Jay took us to an older woman’s house, saying we could all live there. When we were out one day after we were settled, Jay asked us if we’d given blow jobs before. I said no. I’d never even done it before.
“I could auction off your virginity,” Jay said, getting excited. “You can bring me lots of money.”
I was like: “No, thank you. I don’t want to work.” Jay grabbed my wrist and threw me around. “You’re not worth anything to me if you’re going to be a difficult bitch,” he hissed. I didn’t want to be auctioned off, so that night I partied with the older woman who owned the house and her son. We got drunk and I let him have sex with me. I didn’t want some dirty old man being my first.
The next day, Jay turned to me and said: “Well, I guess now you’re ready to work for me?”
“Yeah,” I replied. “I guess.”
The woman dressed me up in a short skirt, hoochie hoops (big hoop ear-rings) and did my make-up. My long dark hair was put up in a ponytail on top of my head.
Jay then took me and my friend, who had never turned a trick before and dropped us on a street corner. Before he let us get out of the car, he gave me some rules including: make sure the trick touches me on the crotch before I get in the car because a cop wouldn’t do that.
“Half your money is mine,” he then said. “Don’t plan on lying about how much you make either. I plan on searching you at the end of the night.”
Standing out on the street, I felt like I was waiting for a bus. “Shit man,” I said to my girl. “No one is going to pick us up. We look like little girls.” Two seconds later, a car pulls in. The driver points at me. I sank into my shoes like when you come down from a roller coaster.
I got in the front seat and told the man I didn’t know what to do.
“You have to touch me.”
“I thought you were supposed to touch me,” I said.
We laughed and then we did it. That first night, I made $180. After Jay took his cut, it was more than I ever had in my pocket in my life. I was 13!
Jay started, after a few months, to take more than his cut. So I began to collect a ‘trick list’ i.e. the names and phone numbers of my regulars. Soon Jay wasn’t giving me anything. So I broke loose. My friends and I made a deal with the woman who owned the house that we would pay her rent in exchange for living there, as long as she didn’t tell Jay.
It wasn’t too difficult to escape Jay. For one, the gang was cutting him loose, too. He had HIV/AIDS.
I went missing twice. A trick called in his friends and these friends, all Asian guys, took me out to the West coast. They kidnapped me, and made me work for them. I was really scared. I thought I was going to die out there. But one day, I managed to get free. I knew I had a relative on a reserve and I tracked him down. He was my mother’s youngest brother, who wasn’t taken in the 60s Scoop. I wanted to tell him about my life and that I needed help. I didn’t. All I said was that I wanted money. I had to get home. He helped me with bus fare.
Another time I was taken by a trick to Thunder Bay. It was a big house party and I was the party favour. It went on and on. I was held hostage and gang raped. Finally, I was able to go home.
Both times, no one knew I was missing. My family was AWOL. There were no posters about me.
I was in the game for two years in total. I got out because Jay was sick and his gang disowned him. If they hadn’t, I would have been involved for way much longer. But my shackles were untied the day I went solo, and got away from Jay.
I started doing a program that sent me back to school and paid for my apartment. Today, I run a foster home for sexually exploited youth.