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Sex trafficking can happen here
Staring into the cold, wet winter night from the safe, warm comfort of her vehicle’s passenger seat, Michelle Brock saw something she hadn’t been looking for.
Something she’d never wanted to see.
A teenage girl, alone, hitchhiking a lonely, rural road in a mini-skirt.
Brock has dedicated her adult life to ending the exploitation and sex trafficking of women at home and abroad.
She co-founded Hope For The Sold and wants women to be able to walk wherever they want, whenever they want, however they want, without fear of danger or harm.
But the recent murder of 18-year-old Tyeshia Jones proves that killers lurk even in Cowichan.
So when Brock saw a girl of about 14 or 15 years old, walking with her thumb slightly out but clearly resigned to making her way on foot, alone at 10 o’clock at night — not far from where Jones’ body was found — she was horrified. Brock’s husband pulled a U-turn and made his way back to the lone girl.
That’s when a scary situation turned chilling.
“Right as we started heading back, we see another car that had just parked on this isolated road, and a group of guys was getting out of the car and heading toward this girl,” Brock said.
“We pulled another U-turn, cut them off with our vehicle, and said, ‘Get in the car,’ to the girl.”
Then the Brocks drove. And drove.
“I thought maybe it would be like five minutes down the road, or something like that,” said Brock. “But we were driving and driving and driving, and eventually the paved road ends, and it turns into a dirt road and there’s no street lights and it’s just bush all around, dense forest all around. And we’re heading deeper and deeper into the darkness and I looked around me and thought, ‘This is a sex-offender’s dream.’”
The teenage girl told the Brocks she often walks home.
Sometimes it takes her two or three hours.
They spoke about Tyeshia Jones, and the subsequent Take Back The Night vigil and walk.
The Brocks had been there.
So had the girl.
“But she didn’t make the connection,” said Brock. “She was that same girl, she was in the very same position, and it broke my heart because I went to that walk and I thought, ‘This is fantastic. This will be a way for girls to realize there are dangerous people out there and we need to be careful.’
“But clearly awareness is not enough.”
Brock knows what she’s talking about: she’s been researching and raising awareness about sexual exploitation and trafficking for years.
She and her husband, Jay, made a documentary called Enslaved and Exploited: The Story of Sex Trafficking in Canada.
Brock hasn’t been in Cowichan long enough to have collected data on sexual exploitation and trafficking in the area, but she said if other data is any indication, Cowichan girls and women are just as much at risk as other Canadians.
Especially when you consider the fact Cowichan has the largest First Nations band in the province.
“When we were doing research for our documentary, we met a woman named Anupriya Sethi and she did research specifically on Aboriginal trafficking in Canada,” Brock explained.
Vulnerabilities — such as increased poverty on reserves — makes Native girls and women much more likely to be exploited and ultimately trafficked.
“(Aboriginal) girls often hitchhike to and from reserves and that is an extremely vulnerable position to be in,” Brock said.
“Hitchhiking often is a way girls are made available to guys who are seeking to then exploit them commercially in the sex trade.
“I personally haven’t done any research in the Cowichan Valley, but it would be nice of someone did, because I think if they really started looking into it, they would certainly find something.”
All the ingredients are at hand, she pointed out.
“I never thought I would see it right in front of my eyes: a young girl hitchhiking alone at night,” said Brock. “That’s just a recipe for exploitation. She really captured my heart. I think about her all the time, and the people she represents, all the girls she represents across the country.”
The solution, Brock added, is something every Cowichanian can share in.
“If we had just driven past this girl, and not picked her up, it could have been that those guys had no bad intentions. Who knows? But it also could be that they had some pretty bad intentions,” she said. “I think we need to keep our eyes open for stuff like this. This was an opportunity right in front of my eyes, and I think we miss those all the time. We need to be looking for them and recognizing them, learning to identify them, and just change our way of thinking.”
Don’t drive past a girl hitchhiking alone at night, and shrug her off as foolish.
“We need to think, ‘Look at that vulnerable girl who needs help. How can we come alongside her and help her out?’” Brock said. “We need to have a mind-shift about who these people are, and how we can part of the solution.”
For more information, visit www.hopeforthesold.com.