Indigenous women 'easy prey' for human traffickers

Patty Musgrave is sharing the story of a recent rescue of a young Indigenous woman in hopes of raising awareness about the risks of being Indigenous and the reality of human trafficking in New Brunswick.

Patty Musgrave shares terrifying story of a young Indigenous woman held by human traffickers in Moncton

Patty Musgrave, Indigenous affairs co-ordinator at Mount Allison University in Sackville and a member of the Sex Workers Action Group in Moncton, says she recently helped a young woman escape from a terrifying situation. (Vanessa Blanch/CBC)

If you are an Indigenous woman or girl, you have a bull's-eye on your back.

That is reality, according to Patty Musgrave, who recently worked with police to rescue a young woman she believes was targeted by sex traffickers at a Moncton McDonald's.

"She's very obviously native and she's also very obviously innocent and sweet," said Musgrave, who is the Indigenous affairs co-ordinator at Mount Allison University and a member of the Sex Workers Action Group in Moncton.

"She was very vulnerable, very naive."

The 18-year-old moved to Moncton in September from her First Nation three hours away to attend school. One night in November, she was at the fast-food restaurant alone when she started talking to a couple of men.

Musgrave said the men followed her home and as soon as they got back to her apartment, where she lived alone, things went from friendly to frightening.

"She let them come in," Musgrave said.

"She was drugged, she was told she was going to have sex with both of them and that if she told anybody they would kill her, they would come back."

Shocked and scared 

Musgrave said the young woman managed to text her mother, "911," and in turn her mother contacted RCMP in Moncton, who came to her door to check on her.

When police arrived, the young woman, who was terrified, told the officers she was fine and sent them away, Musgrave said.

The entire time we were driving she was looking behind her in the car, like looking out to see if anybody was following us.- Patty Musgrave

"She was afraid. She thought [a visit from police] would scare them enough to leave but that's not going to scare them."

Early the next morning, Musgrave was driving to work when she got a desperate call from the young woman's mother.

Musgrave called Codiac RCMP, who went to the young woman's apartment a second time. Musgrave met them there. 

This time police intervened and arrested one of the men, who was already wanted on a warrant. The other man was able to leave. 

Musgrave helped the young woman pack her things, since she was in shock and "scared to death" the men would return.

"She left with me, and the entire time we were driving she was looking behind her in the car, like looking out to see if anybody was following us."

In part two of her series on human trafficking in New Brunswick, CBC Moncton's Vanessa Blanch takes a look at why Indigenous women and girls are at higher risk of becoming victims. 9:21

'We all know it's happening'

Former Elsipogtog chief Susan Levi-Peters recently raised her concerns about human trafficking and recruiters in the community, which is 90 kilometres north of Moncton, with the chief and council.

"We all know it's happening," she said. "In order for it to stop we need to talk about it."

Former Elsipogtog Chief Susan Levi-Peters is speaking out about human trafficking and the risk Indigenous women and girls face. (Mike Heenan/CBC)

Barbara Gosse, CEO of the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking, said research has found Indigenous women and girls are "over represented in the victims of human trafficking population."

"Many young people travel from their home communities to schools in larger cities, where they're not used to the environment," she said.

Poverty a risk factor

Levi-Peters said she gets "goose bumps" when she thinks of Kayla Peters, who recently spoke out about her sister Tiffany's suicide.

Peters believes her sister was the victim of human trafficking in Moncton and took her own life after the lives of her children were threatened.

"When Tiffany passed away I knew in my heart what it was, but I had no facts," Levi-Peters said. "It was not until her sister spoke out."

When asked what needs to change to reduce the risks that Indigenous women and girls face, Levi-Peters said simply, "poverty."

Aboriginal women are so ... easy to prey on … because the rest of Canada doesn't care.- Kayla Peters

"There's no hope," she said. "These women need nice homes and even the welfare rate alone hasn't gone up for over 30 years."

She wants to see a forensic audit of spending by the Elsipogtog First Nation and believes more transparency is needed.

Musgrave agreed that poverty is contributing to the vulnerability of Indigenous women and girls.

"Maybe they're in a precarious situation at home. Maybe they've experienced some really dark times at home. If you have somebody offering to buy you clothes, or bring you to Moncton where you have access to more stuff then it's pretty easy for them to get roped in."

'Most of our own families don't even care'

Kayla Peters, who lives in Elsipogtog, said Indigenous women often "get swept under the rug."

"Aboriginal women are so f--king easy to prey on … because the rest of Canada doesn't care. And you know what? Most of our own families don't even care about us."

Kayla Peters (right) and her older sister Tiffany grew up like twins in Elsipogtog. Kayla believes her sister took her own life in September because she was the victim of human trafficking and couldn't see any way out. (Submitted by Kayla Peters)

Peters said that as a 13-year-old, she hitchhiked across the Maritimes and not one person called police to report her missing.

"And when my sister killed herself, the only thing I could think of was … I was the only person she had. I was the only person who believed her. I was the only person who helped her and who checked up on her and asked her if she was safe."

Services for Indigenous women lacking

Musgrave wants to see more support specifically for Indigenous women in New Brunswick.

She said rescuing the teen in Moncton in November exposed the lack of basic services.

There were no emergency beds available in Moncton that night, and in the end Musgrave drove the young woman to a shelter in Amherst, N.S.

Kayla Peters believes Indigenous women and girls are 'easy to prey on' because 'the rest of Canada doesn't care' about them. (Mike Heenan/CBC)

"I want designated Indigenous spaces," she said. "Moncton is seeing greater numbers of Indigenous women working the streets that are homeless and we don't have designated advocacy for them and … they need cultural connection."

Musgrave said Fredericton has a shelter for Indigenous women and Moncton should have the same.

"There's approximately 25 homeless, Indigenous people right now in Moncton and I know that at last count, we've probably got six Indigenous women working the streets," she said.

Musgrave wants people to start talking about human trafficking and the risks that women and girls face.

"People have no idea. They have no clue. Every vigil we do for Sisters in Spirit or Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, I say the same thing. 'Go home and talk about it at the dinner table.'"