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Speech: Street Gangs, Foster Homes and Colonialism

Making the connections to stop the violence

by Lucy Anacleto

The 2013 March for Missing and Murdered Women, Montreal. Photo: Irina Gaber/
The 2013 March for Missing and Murdered Women, Montreal. Photo: Irina Gaber/

The following is the text of a speech given at the 2013 Memorial March for Missing and Murdered Women in Montreal.

Hi, my name is Lucy Anacleto. In 2010, I was hired by the YWCA of Montreal to take part in the making of a documentary about the recruitment of young girls into street gangs for the purposes of sexual exploitation. Perhaps part of the reason why I got the job was that during the interview, I revealed that I myself had spent my adolescence in foster homes in Ontario, and I had been offered gang membership a few times. Some of my foster home sisters were being paid cash for sex, and tried to convince me to take part in some of the action. For whatever reason I didn’t and for whatever reason I didn’t fall in love with one of the cute and charming gang member boys that hung around the foster homes looking for “girlfriends” either. But I very well could have. I was 14 then.
During the making of the YWCA documentary Street Stories, I got to interview many gang involved youth here in Montreal. One interview that will always live with me was when I interviewed an indigenous girl who was living in a group home. She told me that she had fallen in love with a gang-involved boy and that’s how she became part of the gang. She also told me that if the gang decided that a girl in the gang should have sex with any of the male gang members (or friends of the gang) and if her boyfriend wasn’t high enough in the gang hierarchy, he couldn’t stop them. She also said that the girl in the gang didn’t have any choice in the matter either. Sometimes the street gangs moved girls from one city to another in order to keep the “merchandise” fresh. This girl was also 14 years old when she told me these things, but her eyes were much older.
In 2011, I was hired back at the YWCA of Montreal to help finish the prevention program, Tools for Effective Action, that the documentary Street Stories was part of. I had the opportunity to learn a lot more about how street gangs operate in Canada. Three things became very clear to me:
First was that street gangs operate much like many of the other institutions that hold power in this society. They have strict membership guidelines, and the consequences for stepping out of line are harsh. The only real difference is that when kids are told over and over that they have no place in the legitimate institutions that hold power in our society, they find other ways to survive, to thrive, and to make money. They find other roads to power.
The second thing that became clear to me was that Foster homes are one of the main places that street gangs go to recruit new members. Kids who run away from abusive situations are at risk of street gang recruitment and above all, kids who are running away from the intrusive and controlling institutions that are supposed to protect them, such as the child welfare services, are at a really high risk of street gang recruitment. After all, the less you have, the more you’re willing to sacrifice to have something that is worth having. And the street gangs tell them that the more they sacrifice for the street gang, the more they will have.
The third thing that became clear to me was that there are more First Nations, Metis and Inuit youth under the care of child and youth protection services today than there were at the height of the residential school system’s “60’s scoop”.
Is it any wonder, then, that First Nations, Metis and Inuit girls are more at risk of sexual exploitation and human trafficking than any other group in Canada?
There is a problem when girls under the age of 18 believe that the best way to survive and thrive is by turning to alternative systems of power and money, such as the underage sex trade and the street gangs that are connected to it. These systems exotify and exploit young girls’ bodies and put them at risk of trafficking and abuse. Many of the young girls never even receive a fraction of the profits made off of the sale of their bodies. Many never even see the money exchange hands because it goes from clients to gang members while the girl is not even in the room. Street gangs have begun to set up underage sex dens near residences, group homes and foster homes so that the girls can easily make it back home in time for curfew.
Colonialisation has imprinted the idea that First Nations, Metis and Inuit women’s bodies are abusable and exploitable in this society. Colonialized systems then turn a blind eye to their abuse, their disappearances and their murders. Not only do they turn blind eyes and deaf ears to it, but they are mute to it. The silence is deafening. We also know that this silence works to maintain the status quo and the hierarchy of abusable, exploitable, and disposable bodies.
If you do not speak out against it, then you are supporting it. You add to the deafening silence that allows the abuse, exploitation and murder of Indigenous women to go on and on and on.
If non-Indigenous Canadian voices DO NOT echo support for First Nations, Metis and Inuit women’s demands for respect, equality, safety and the resources to truly choose and manifest the conditions of their own lives, then by their silence they are working to suppress and oppress Indigenous voices. This silence cannot stand. Let’s make so much noise that silence is no longer an option for anyone. Not only in marches like this one but every day and in everything we do.

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Topics: Indigenous

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dru (Dru Oja Jay)
Member since January 2008


Writer, organizer, Media Co-op co-founder. Co-author of Paved with Good Intentions and Offsetting Resistance.

980 words


Awesome post, some parts missing?

Thanks for this great post. there's a few paragraphs that cut off abrubtly, could it be a mistake?

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Thanks, Stéfanie. Not sure how that happened, but I replaced the missing lines.

thank you

awesome(in the true sense of the word) post. It is always stunning to know that such violence continues to go ignored.  lets keep spreading the word. 

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