Hitchhiking in the north

I recently attended a fascinating presentation at the Burns Lake Band office about the dangers of hitchhiking.

This was just one of a series of workshops held in the Burns Lake area by a University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) professor, in partnership with the RCMP.

Before I attended the workshop, I skeptically assumed that all the information presented would be common sense, so I was only planning on taking a photo for Lakes District News. I ended up staying for the entire presentation as I soon realized that there are so many more aspects to the issue of safety along the so-called Highway of Tears than most of us think.

The UNBC professor, along with five research assistants, has been conducting interviews with hitchhikers all over the province as part of a new study. What they have repeatedly heard is that people who would normally hitchhike in the southern parts of B.C. wouldn’t hitchhike in the north. These hitchhikers believe that it’s simply more dangerous to hitchhike up here.

The long distances between communities and the lack of cellphone service in some sections of the highway sure contribute to this increased danger, but the professor also talked about a “pervasive culture of sexual assault.”

Now this is what surprised me the most. Even though we see higher numbers of sexual assault cases in the southern parts of B.C. because of the higher population numbers, when you take into account the number of people who live in northern communities, the proportion of sexual assaults is actually higher up here. In fact, in some communities, the sexual assault rates are up to 10 times higher than the Lower Mainland.

Lakes District News verified this information using data provided by The Globe and Mail from a 20-month investigation into sexual assaults across Canada. According to their data, the average sexual assault rate reported in Burns Lake in the past five years is 4.82 per 1000 inhabitants while in Vancouver the rate is 0.78. That’s about six times higher than Vancouver.

I thought this was fascinating because we tend to believe (or at least I did) that smaller communities up north are safer than big cities. This is not necessarily the case.

What’s also interesting is that these numbers don’t reflect the total number of sexual assault cases as many hitchhikers who experience sexual assault choose not to tell the police, according to the UNBC professor who conducted the study.

With a new low-cost bus service recently implemented along Hwy. 16, I think this presentation came at a very good time.

Hitchhiking in northern B.C. is dangerous, and we should help spread the word. If you still see no other option other than hitchhiking, then at least don’t do it alone and don’t accept any substances.

Burns Lake

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