She Ran on Her Toes

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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.

_________________________

About Kisa:

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

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  • http://www.twitter.com/teenbug Tina Francis

    Aww Kisa…. this is beautiful and heartbreaking friend. Thank you for putting a tangible face on human trafficking. You are a beautiful storyteller.

    I wonder if witnessing Sandy’s pain at such a young age affected the path your life eventually took. I’m so glad that even at fifteen, you knew that it was important for her to know that somebody cared.

    I will download the report and read it, friend.

    Thank you for telling us Sandy’s story, and in doing so, telling us part of yours.

  • Kisa

    Thanks Tina.

  • http://www.coercedfilm.com Katherine

    Wow. Thanks for writing this Kisa!! A powerful story that shows us how easily these girls can get trapped. Beautifully written. I will definitely be reading the report and passing it on. You are a beautiful and strong woman. So honored to have met you!

    • Kisa

      You had a part to play in writing this one, Katherine. Our brilliant, long conversation about your film inspired me to write it.

      I’m so glad you’re going to read the report. One of the key points made is that there are no reliable statistics and very few criminal convictions, mostly because of girls like Sandy.

      I struggle with labeling what happened to her as “human trafficking”, because I think of it as being “my friend who was in a bad situation with a guy” (which is pretty common when you’re growing up). But all the symptoms of trafficking are there, and she was way too young.

      Another key point is that very few convictions for human trafficking have happened in Canada, while women in the sex trade are regularly arrested, charged and convicted.

      The $1 haunted me for years. I couldn’t make up my mind whether it was a good sentence (merciful) or systemic blindness to the reality of her situation (is that all she’s worth?).

      I love hearing debate and dialogue about it all. Really looking forward to seeing your film, when it’s done!!

  • http://www.fakeleft.com Stephanie Motz

    Thank for sharing this story Kisa. It’s beautiful and powerful. Thanks for bringing us close to the issue by sharing your personal perspective/experience. This moved me in so many ways – I’m reminded to keep my eyes open, to listen to others, to help people share their voice and story, and to be there.

    • Kisa

      I love your heart, Stephanie. So nice to hear. Sandy grew up in a community of people who loved her; so, there was more than just me looking out for her. And yes – definitely keep your eyes open. :)

  • Trevor Haug

    Kisa,
    Artists make such beautiful things out of mere clay, paint, misfortune, words, ink, tragedy, and such. I love it that you have never stopped being an artist while becoming an advocate by profession. Reminds of someone else I know. Thanks for your heart and the beautiful article.

    • Kisa

      Your words mean a lot to me, Trevor. I hope we can catch up in person, soon.

  • http://manywatersband.ca Eric Macdonald

    Mercy and justice are found together in your telling of this tale. I remember your concern for your friend at the time and our shared helplessness. Your heart was overwhelmed by innocence lost., mercy calling and injustice revealed.. …and so now it is time to stand but it begns with “seeing” which is why art is the opening door to restoring justice.

    • Kisa

      Yup. Love you, Dad.