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Aboriginal Sex Trade: “Survival Sex” on Canadian Streets

Aboriginal Sex Trade: “Survival Sex” on Canadian Streets


It’s called survival sex. Homeless women in the sex trade
that stand on street corners in Canada. Many are aboriginal women
from far-off places. Caught in a cycle of poverty and
substance abuse, prostitution provides enough to feed a drug habit,
but barely enough for subsistence. When I am driving I’m looking
for women who are on the streets, just walking or just
standing in one area. Milton is part of Ottawa-based
Minwaashin Aboriginal Support center. It focuses on aboriginal women who
dominate street-level sex trade in cities in Canada. The outreach workers offer the women
food, clothing and other essentials. I got nice, wicked boots already. Lucy is a 24-year-old Inuit
woman from Canada’s far north. She’s lived here for
more than four years. While she takes a few minutes
to look through clothes and shoes, she keeps an eye on the street. “Do they have any
prostitution in Iqaluit?” “Yeah, they do.” “But for booze only!” The high rate of aboriginals
in the sex trade relates to their social conditions. According to one study, of the
1.1 million aboriginal people in Canada, defined as
First Nations, Metis and Inuit, they experience hunger four
times that of other Canadians. “My ex-boyfriend is
the biggest dealer.” “My ex, who paid my
way here? Bootlegger.” “Oh, I am getting cold
staying in one spot.” “There’s one my regulars right there.” The number of aboriginal women on the
street directly relates to government policy that tore apart the
stability of aboriginal families. For more than a century,
leading up to the 1990s, 150 thousand aboriginal children
were placed in residential schools. Separated from their families, these schools primarily
focused on assimilation. These children suffered greatly
from both physical and sexual abuse. Another 30 thousand children
were forcibly put up for adoption in the 1960s, in non-native homes. We have no self-esteem
whatsoever, we’re full of anger. We grew up, holding back
and not saying anything because we had foster parents or
people who were supposed to care for us and they abused us, so we
grew up full of anger and rage, and we turned to drugs
and we turned to the streets. Turning to the streets
is a lot less painful than living in residential schools. I don’t think there
are any aboriginals, First Nations, Inuit or
Metis people, in Canada that aren’t impacted by that. So when you look at the
women who are on the streets, it’s impossible to separate
their current experience from the historical
context of their lives. While aboriginals represent about
two percent of Canada’s population, they represent a large portion of the
number of people who are homeless. In some cities, such as Winnipeg, they can represent
60-70 percent of the homeless. At this drop-in center for
native people in Ottawa, they serve about 700 meals a week. Many of the women
who end up on the street have fled sexual
and physical abuse. They do get into the sex trade, but some of them don’t recognize
it as being the sex trade. But a lot of the ones on the streets,
because of their addictions, may sleep with somebody
for a bottle of wine, may sleep with somebody
for a hit of crack. And we have a few people out
on streets also that understand the vulnerability of our women, and what they’ll do is they’ll start
to give it to them for free, and then once they get
themselves addicted to it, then they have to start
going out and paying for it, because nothing is for free. “So Lucy, when you’re out there, do
you ever … do you ever go to centers to practice your religion,
your aboriginal culture?” The members of
the team that goes to meet the women working the street recognize they are no more than
a band-aid for most of these women. But they do provide
at least some support and links to other social services, and for many of the aboriginal
people on the street, small contact with native culture
before they go back to the street. “We have this. It is a medicine bag.” “I made one, right?” “Well we have sage, so if
you ever want a smudge…”

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