How Human Trafficking Hit Home for Me
“She stood beside me, in front of the choir room chalkboard, waiting to be heard.”
By Kisa MacDonald | Twitter: @kisamac
Sandy lived around the corner. She was blue-eyed, whimsical and often singing to herself. She was the girl who always ran everywhere on her toes. Every day, she would prance down the big hill after school, softly shuffling her feet like an unstoppable, beautiful ballerina. Our growing-up streets and houses were just scenery for her afternoon stage, witnesses to her perpetual performance.
We were good kids, with well-educated parents and middle-class ambitions: sports, arts and music. What we looked like and how we performed was often emphasized, praised and corrected. We wanted to do it all: be better, win at everything and be rewarded. We were the material girls, listening to Madonna, watching Grease over-and-over, loving Olivia Newton John.
I remember watching Sandy audition for the lead role in the school play. She stood beside me, in front of the choir room chalkboard, waiting to be heard. She was shaking, whispering rehearsed lyrics like prayers. Our eccentric teacher loved her song, but didn’t choose her for the big part. She said that her voice was too soft, did not carry enough impact on the room.
I remember her tears.
I felt sorry for her.
During our first year of junior high, Sandy became hard to see. I ran into her once behind the movie theatres. Her hair was all messed up. She smelled like too many cigarettes. She was wearing high heels. Her new boyfriend was a few years older.
I was only 15 when I first stood inside The Supreme Court of British Columbia. Sandy was being sentenced for prostitution, and I wanted her to know that someone cared.
The judge felt sorry for her. He only charged her a $1 fine.
We stood outside, squinting awkwardly at each other in the February sun. She thanked me for showing up, while her boyfriend paid the one-dollar fine. A few days later, they moved to Alberta, or some other province.
I never saw her again.
For six months last year, I worked beside The International Centre for Criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Policy (ICCLR) on UBC campus. The ICCLR has issued a commissioned report called “An Exploration of Promising Practices in Response to Human Trafficking in Canada.” (Click on the link for the PDF download.)
I read the report and thought about Sandy standing beside me, in the old choir room, waiting to be heard. I thought about how little I felt, standing as a 15-year-old, on the steps of the courthouse. I thought about the shadow of her old boyfriend.
Please read the report. Take a long, hard look at what can be done better. Promise me you will raise your voice. Someone, perhaps like my Sandy, needs to hear.
Kisa completed her law degree earlier last year and is currently finishing her articling year at a non-profit that focuses on law reform, legal research and outreach. She grew up on Vancouver Island but has lived all over: North America, Southeast Asia and Europe. In this next season of life, she hopes to see creative community and access to justice established in Vancouver.
Image credit: Nima Mir via Pinterest