DOES it make sense that a segment of our population that perhaps needs medical help more than any other is the least likely to seek it? That these people worry there is a stigma attached to walking into a clinic? That they — young teenage girls working as prostitutes — don’t know there is help available by people who care about them?
Not when those in charge of the girls are selling them for sex for as little as $10, having convinced them no one else cares for them. These men present themselves as a sort of father figure to impressionable girls, take over their lives and live off the income they provide. With the rest of the world portrayed as untrustworthy — don’t bother, no one will believe you — it is no wonder that Thunder Bay has a street sex trade to accompany its excessive drug and alcohol addiction and resulting social ills that tax the ability of an army of professionals trying to sort out the mess.
Indigenous girls and woman present an extended version of the issue, given the cultural divide that exists in cities like Thunder Bay with large aboriginal populations. One former prostitute said this week that the sex and drug travails of young First Nations girls is somehow viewed as less serious. Controlled and exploited as they are by those who find, befriend and hook them on drugs to ply the streets for sex and money, no wonder they are leery of adult authority. If people much older than them are abusing them, what chance do they have of finding solace and help from any adult.
The Joseph Esquega Health Centre has begun a pilot project with the Guardian Angels, volunteer street patrollers, to reach out to these vulnerable girls and try to convince them that help is at hand, including an escape from the life they think is somehow normal.
Gaining some trust, then convincing them to seek the help and safety of the clinic, can address immediate health issues while building a bond of trust over time.
This subculture that exists beyond the lives of most residents is no real surprise in any city. With the support of Mayor Keith Hobbs and the tacit approval of police who can use all the help they can get on this front, the Esquega staff and the Guardian Angels are able and willing to reach in and try to pull these girls out of trouble. They deserve Thunder Bay’s gratitude and its support.