Time has not changed for the Murdered and Missing women in the Indigenous communities across BC or across Canada. There are still unsolved stories of missing women from our Indigenous families. So many of our women are unaccounted for and it seems like their disappearances will never be solved.
It is still happening today, continuing on from past years when stories about murdered and missing women made headlines from the Highway of Tears to the Downtown Eastside community. A woman I worked with is unaccounted for since December 23 of 2018, which is totally out of character for her. It affects our families, friends and especially their moms. There are so many of our lost women that I and others were connected to, and who we knew personally. These were very beautiful people with a sense of humor, love, but were also very lonely and hurt and unsupported. We got to know them and be with them when they needed a hug or scolding.
In the 1980s and early 1990s I worked for an organization that handed out condoms and a bad date list to women in the sex trade, and later on clean needles to them. The agency I worked for was the Downtown Eastside Youth Activities Society (DEYAS), founded by John Turvey.
In the 1980s there were three main working areas for people in the sex trade business: the Downtown Eastside area from 100 block East Hastings to Nanaimo; the downtown core on Davie Street and Seymour Avenue; and the Broadway area from Main Street to Clark Drive. The busiest time was in the 80s when Expo 86 happened in Vancouver. The women in the sex trade were very young, and there was absolutely no oversight of these children by the system, and no one was watching out for what was happening to them. They were as young as 13 being sexually exploited on the streets. Their families did not know where they were, or care about them. Some of them were foster children, scoop kids, adopted kids and family kids.
These were lonely children, sexually abused by caregivers, family members, and people of authority. As John Turvey said they were” Throw Away Kids”. These children felt abandoned and unloved. I got to know these children and love them dearly, but when my shift was over at one or two in the morning it was hard to leave them out on the street. They gave their love back to me, and I was probably one of the few men they felt safe around because I was a family man with a wife and children.
My spouse Linda also worked as the Administrator at DEYAS. She worked during the day and I started my shift as a Child Care Worker in the late afternoon, so we had to bring our youngest daughter, Elizabeth, to work sometimes. She was kindergarten age. DEYAS gave Elizabeth her first job at 5 years old. She would pack condoms, alcohol swabs, and little bottles of sterile water in Glad bags that would be given out as a harm-reduction initiative to injection drug users. She would get ‘paid’ by the street nurses with a granola bar and a juice box.
But more importantly Elizabeth would watch TV in the visitors’ room, and the young working girls would join her and watch cartoons with her and share their chocolate bars with her. Elizabeth gave love to the young women, love that they missed from their siblings who they could not visit anymore.
Yes, it was a hard job and I would come home angry because I could not do a whole lot more for these young women and for their lost childhood. I would go to my children’s room just to look at them and feel the love from them after I got home from work.
This is why I go to the march for the Murdered and Missing women, because these young women had heart and love that has been lost forever. Thank you to my wife and my little daughter, who gave their unconditional love to the young women for a brief moment - a moment of peace and a moment of fun with their ‘little sister’, Elizabeth, and their ‘mom’, Linda.
Photos from the 2018 'March' by Laurel Dykstra