By the Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Discourse
It was over 39 degrees when 30 women and men who gathered in downtown Vernon on July 30. They gathered to march for victims of human trafficking. Survivors and their supporters alike gathered at the Vernon Recreation Centre parking lot and marched down Highway 97, armed with signs, receiving honks of support along their way.
The event was organized by Morgan Morrone, who has been spearheading the effort to bring awareness to the cause with her Facebook group .savethechildren. She says she is passion-driven as a mother of two, and hopes the rally will incite conversation around the issue.”I have never organized rallies! First time and way out of my comfort zone,” shares Morrone in a Facebook message. “But I have been so uncomfortable learning about the 30-million children being trafficked worldwide that I had to do something, anything.”
Human trafficking and sexual violence against women are local issues and rising concerns for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
IndigiNews reached out to the RCMP Media Relations twice and no response to our request for further local information and statistics.
According to the Native Women’s Association of Canada, as of 2016, although Indigenous women only make up 4 per cent of the Canadian population, they make up 50 per cent of trafficking victims, while women under the age of 18 make up a quarter of all trafficking victims.
Morrone says this is an issue that everyone needs to be more vocal about locally, in the Okanagan. She says she is especially keen to raise awareness of the impact on child victims.
“They don’t deserve that, they’re innocent, they’re vulnerable, they’re manipulated and tortured, so how is that okay with anyone? Indigenous children are way more at risk than anybody, especially in the care homes,” she says.
Vernon areawomen’s rights survivors showed up to remind their community that it is happening and it’s happening here.
“Our children don’t just disappear!” hollers Heather Leggett, while holding a sign that raises awareness of the higher proportion of Indigenous women and children who are trafficking victims.
Leggett, of Slave Lake, Alberta, is a survivor of sex trafficking and says that this is an important cause for her. “It’s worse than ever now,” she says. “I’m an Aboriginal and my mother was murdered. I’ve gone through this myself, and I’m a survivor, and I’m not going to stop.”
Tracy Hamilton, also a survivor of sex trafficking, says that it was important for her to share a message of hope with her neighbourhood.
“I’m a survivor, so to actually survive and know that I can live a kind of normal life is huge to me and that’s part of my message, if we can find these kids, and if we can rescue them somehow, that I want to help facilitate that hope,” she says.
“Every time I hear a honk, my heart just opens, and I feel like for years I’ve been trying to get people to understand the damage that happens. I want people to think of the victims, the victims go through hell for years. Focus on the victims, please.”
Dustin Lariviere, a resident of Vernon, said it was important for him to show up and provide his support.
“The masculine energy is what’s missing in the world right now, and we need to be standing up for these issues to be completely honest,” he says.
Lariviere shares that the cause was so important to him that he took time off from work to attend the rally.
“I’m supposed to be at work right now and told my boss I needed to come to this,” he says.
When asked how his workplace felt about that, Lariviere said, “It didn’t matter.”
Cameron Zubot says he came out to address the media’s silence on the subject.
“I’ve been coming across a lot of information over the past year and a half of children going missing,” he says, carrying a sign that reads “Mainstream Media Hides Children’s Cries.”
“None of it is being shared on the news at all, it’s actually being removed. … It’s very, very troubling, so it’s good to get the word out here since the media isn’t covering it.”
For the folks who joined the rally, the need to raise awareness was an important message to spread. In fact, Morrone says she hopes to hold more protests and marches soon.
“It’s every adult’s inherent responsibility to take care of the children, globally, it is everyone’s responsibility,” explains Justine Vickery, another supporter. “So when you see a video or you see a sign, you are now responsible to look into this.”
“This is about the most innocent people in the world.”