When you think of the Niagara region immediately the mind turns to the majestic falls. Some who have spent more than an afternoon here will think of places like the Welland Canal, The Skylon Tower, Fallsview Casino, Clifton Hill, and maybe even the dearth of reasonably priced hotels, and restaurants. The aforementioned sites are the Niagara region you are supposed to think about. It is what you will find printed in all of those handy little pamphlets, that the tour guides like to give out. Yes the safe family destination, where everything is bright and sunny.What you will not hear about are the women that have been killed here since 1996. What if I were to whisper these names in your ear?
31-year-old Dawn Stewart- her skeletal remains and those of her six-month old fetus were discovered in March 1996 in a wooded are of Pelham six months after her disappearance.
26-year-old Nadene Gurczenski – her body was discovered in a Vineland ditch in May 1999. She had a two year old child. Cause of death undeclared.
32-year-old Diane Dimitri- her body was discovered in a ditch outside of Welland in August 2003. She had four children. Beaten to death.
26-year-old Margaret Jeanette Jigaru- her body was discovered in the parking lot of Princess Margaret Elementary school in Niagara Falls in July 2004. She had a four year old son. Shot in the back of the throat, execution-style.
22-year-old Cassey Chicocki- her body was found in a wooded area off of Whirlpool Rd. in Niagara Falls in December 2005. She had suffered the loss of her 3 month old child and the suicide of her brother in the few years just prior to her murder. Beaten to death, her teeth were in her stomach.
29-year-old Stephine Beck- her body was discovered in a Vineland ditch , one concession south of where Nadene’s body was discovered 8 years earlier, in march of 2007. Stephine was 14 weeks pregnant. She died of strangulation.
36-year-old Shari Bacon- found beaten to death in Sean Paul Christie’s apartment in April, 2008. She had to be identified by her tattoos.
Do they resonate with a kind of familiarity in your memory? How about if I said the name Kristen French? The difference between Kristen French, and the aforementioned women, is that French was a young school girl brutally murdered and raped by the serial killer Paul Bernardo, and the other women were all sex trade workers who were brutally raped, and murdered. French is memorable for her innocence and potential, while these women are forgotten for their occupation, and addictions; yet were they not all women, all worthy of justice?
These are just the women whose bodies have been found. What about the missing women who have not been reported? What about the many incidents of rape and physical assault that don't make the local papers, never mind the national news? There are few resources for these women that make up the front lines of Niagara's informal economy. Occasionally the police do the raids, and shut down some of the massage parlors, but where are these women to go? Everyone says not in my neighborhood, but no one wants to help them leave this life. It is far easier for the average citizen of this region to sit on their front porch, and pontificate about the morality and legality of their choices, all the while forgetting the true vulnerability of these women. Imagine if every day that you went to work, you were risking rape or death? That is what these women faced every single day to either feed an addiction, raise children, or support themselves. Should anyone have to pay for that with their life?
When labor day rolls around and the crowds get sparse on the tourist gouging hill, it is these women that keep the money flowing. The only industry in this area is the tourist industry, and good paying full-time jobs are extremely hard to come by. Many women fall in and out of prostitution to make up for the short fall in unemployment benefits throughout the long winter.
One of the things that angers me the most about the sparse reporting that has taken place on these brutal homicides, is the fact that these women are constantly only referred to as sex trade workers. Yes, that was their occupation but does anyone's job make up the totality of their identity. It is a way of devaluing their humanity. To the world at large they don't constitute a loss because they are represented as dirty, foul, carnivorous vaginas seeking to profit through dirty acts. "Good girls" don't sell sex, and "good girls" don't become addicted. Yet there was a time when they must have danced in the rain, built snowmen, or even just enjoyed the warmth of the suns rays as it kissed their bodies. As long as we continue to see them as what they did rather than who they were, there will never be a push to achieve justice for them.
(Michael Durant was charged with the murders of Casey and Diane)
Please take the time to look at the pictures of these women. When we remove the stigma of the term sex trade worker they could easily be your neighbor, or your friend. This is what has been taken from the Niagara Region. It is a tragic, tragic loss, and should be treated as such. I will continue to post about these women as I become aware of new information. Though the community may be ready to turn its back in forgetfulness, I will continue to light a candle in remembrance. Though society would have you believe otherwise, these women matter. They certainly deserved better than to be treated as refuse for simply being women who through chance, and circumstance ended up paying the price for our misogynistic, rape apologist culture.