Almost a year ago today, P.J. Sebastian left Southside to find a ride back to Hazelton. At least that’s as much information as the RCMP can release to the public. Kim Sebastian, P.J.’s cousin, confirms that the family knows as little today as was known a year ago, despite the massive effort by authorities and the family to not only find P.J., but to understand what happened that night that proved to be the last night anyone saw him.
It seems impossible that a person could disappear so completely and without a trace. Does it feel like an inevitability that young people will continue to disappear when they step out onto our highways to hitch a ride?
A survey out of the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) hopes to contribute some insight into hitchhiking. According to Dr. Jacqueline Holler, the lead researcher for the project, one important aspect of the survey is to get a handle on the number of ‘bad rides’ that go unreported.
Why would ‘threatening or violent behavior’ go unreported? Is it because people that need to hitchhike regularly are conditioned to expect a certain level of abuse or marginalization in the their own lives?
In my experience, people often react to the news of people gone missing on highways with the suggestion that the person shouldn’t have been hitchhiking in the first place. Their logic is unassailable; if you don’t hitchhike you won’t experience a bad ride.
But that attitude keeps hitchhikers marginalized and creates a comfort zone for the sick people in our midst that prey on vulnerable young people. If the details of rides gone wrong were reported and a database developed, maybe the RCMP would be able to find patterns and locate those who would do violence to the most at risk members of our society.
To not have transportation, to be unable to move or travel from one town to the next or from one region to another, is a profound vulnerability. I have never experienced it, so I won’t judge those who feel that thumbing a ride with strangers is a necessary part of life.
Generally, I don’t pick up hitchhikers unless I recognize someone. A bad ride could work both ways. It isn’t just a question of being overpowered physically. Unfounded accusations could lead to a lot of difficulties. A socially maladapted individual could make you quickly regret the offer to share a vehicle for the distance between two towns.
The solution to hitchhiking isn’t necessarily to have more decent people start offering rides to strangers. A person shouldn’t feel guilty for not picking up a stranger. Is the solution more buses? Maybe, but I suspect that the research being done out of UNBC is looking for deeper issues.
Young people can’t allow themselves to believe that it is acceptable for them to put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of a ride. Yet they continue to do so. Why do they do it? How do their attitudes formed by experience contribute to an environment where predators are able to work without being caught? How does our attitude towards hitchhikers contribute to an environment where the unthinkable is able to be carried out, or attempted, without consequence?
If you hitchhike, the survey is available at: