Teens trade sex for cab rides

Had too much to drink? Some might suggest you call a cab. But, in Whitehorse, that might not be wise.

Had too much to drink?

Some might suggest you call a cab.

But, in Whitehorse, that might not be wise.

It’s not a good idea, said one Yellow cab driver.

“I’d never get into a taxi in the evening if I’d had anything to drink,” said the cabbie.

“I tell young girls, don’t ever get in a cab alone at night — stick together.

“I’ve heard a lot of scary stories.”

The News heard some frightening stories too.

“I was in this cab and, as we were pulling up to my friend’s place, the driver started grabbing at me and trying to take my cellphone,” said a 17-year-old Bluefeather youth.

“I said, ‘What are you doing,’ and jumped out of the cab, and, as I got out, he slapped my ass,” she said.

Sadly, this was not her only threatening experience with taxi drivers in Whitehorse.

Another cabbie grabbed her leg and asked the 17-year-old if she wanted to go home with him.

“And I got a ride one time from in front of the 202 (Motor Inn) and it was awkward, because the driver didn’t put the meter on,” she said.

“And I was passing out and kept dozing off and when I woke up we were in Takhini, and I said, ‘Where are we? This isn’t McIntyre,’ and the driver said, ‘Isn’t this your place?’ and he started to get out of the cab and then he realized I wasn’t as drunk as he thought and eventually took me up the hill,” she said.

“I was so scared I got out at the store so he wouldn’t know where I lived.”

All three incidents involved different drivers, she said.

The youth didn’t go to the police because they don’t listen to complaints if the victim was drunk during the encounter, she said.

“And they’re kind of mean.”

And lodging a complaint with the cab company is “too much of a hassle,” she said.

“To report it you have to talk to the boss, and then confront the driver.”

She no longer takes cabs unless she’s with her boyfriend or a group of friends.

“My sister had trouble too,” she said.

“She was drunk and all she remembers is waking up, freaking out and then walking home.”

Sexual favours exchanged for free rides is a big concern in Whitehorse, said Kwanlin Dun youth councilor Joseph Graham.

 “I’ve heard about that anecdotally from youth — it happens,” he said.

“I heard lots of stories like that from young girls,” said a cab driver.

“Or they would be too drunk, pass out and then wake up in the back seat to find the driver having sex with them.

“I couldn’t handle all the stories I was hearing; it was too hard. I was a wreck, so I quit encouraging them to talk to me.”

Although Whitehorse cabbies contacted by The News insisted on anonymity, two ex-cabbies were willing to talk on the record.

Serena and Bob Willis drove cab in Whitehorse for about 12 years.

“The Whitehorse taxi system is corrupt as hell,” said Bob from Edmonton.

Both Bob and Serena worked for Graham Jackson, who owns Yellow Cab, Whitehorse Taxi and 5th Avenue Taxi.

“They didn’t want ethical people working there,” said Serena.

Had they heard about fares trading sex for rides?

“One driver in particular, who worked nights, would come in an brag about how many girls he’d had the night before,” said Serena.

“But I believe it’s more than just him doing it.”

Bob heard similar stories while on the job.

“That does happen,” he said.

“And why do you think all those cabs sit outside the Blue Moon?” said a Whitehorse cabbie.

“If I want a fare, I sit outside the Gold Rush or the High Country, but those drivers sit there to get the really drunk customers.

“It’s like easy mark hunting, they sit and watch women get more and more drunk as the night goes on, until they get to a point where they won’t remember …”

“We regularly hear of young girls trading sex for free rides,” said Yukon fetal alcohol society executive director Judy Pakaozdy.

“I wouldn’t think it’s any secret.”

And throughout North America, FASD workers believe their clients are being victimized in taxis, she added.

“Taxi drivers will always have this image, no matter what kind of stand-up guys they are,” said cab king Graham Jackson.

“The guys who work here are checked more than bail bondsman, so they can be trusted with your teenage babysitter in the middle of the night, or someone who’s drunk.”

Despite such assurances, BYTE executive director Jen Jones won’t send youth home in a cab.

“We hire people to drive our youth home because we don’t know the taxi cab drivers who are driving our youth — they’re not bonded through us, and that’s a huge issue,” she said.

“I’m not prepared to put youth in a cab with someone unknown to me when they’re in a program under BYTE.

“And I don’t think any other organization feels comfortable about that either.”

At meetings attended by youth and women’s representatives, Youth Directorate manager Judy Thrower has heard of youth, wittingly or unwittingly, trading sex for rides.

“We need to bring it to the surface, to the RCMP — encourage the youth to lodge official complaints,” said Thrower.

“I’ve urged victims to go to the police,” said a Whitehorse cabbie, who’d heard terrible accusations about a co-worker.

“But the police couldn’t gather enough evidence to lay charges.”

While youth organizations are focused on protecting the young, Jackson is concerned for his drivers.

“Any time a young girl gets into a car with a driver in the middle of the night, the only protection the driver has is the dispatcher he works with, and he keeps track of where that driver is all the time,” said Jackson.

“So, we don’t have time to do shenanigans like you’re talking about.

“If I take two young girls out to Carcross Corner in the middle of the night, they don’t have any money, so they get out and I come back and then they say, ‘Oh, he touched us,’ and I say, ‘I did not.’

“My security is my dispatch.”

There are some really good cab drivers out there, but these other drivers paint them all in a bad light, said Blue Feather Youth Centre executive director Vicki Durrant.

Once, a 16-year-old girl arrived at the centre intoxicated, said Durrant, who works with youth on a daily basis.

“She couldn’t stay there drunk, but we didn’t want her on the street so we told her we could either call a cab or the police,” said Durrant.

“She was so scared about us calling a cab, she opted for the police.”

But it’s not just cab drivers preying on children, she added.

“Kids who end up hitchhiking sometimes get picked up by creeps too.”

Durrant blames the Whitehorse Transit System.

“We need a system that works,” she said.

“Not one that stops running just after 6 p.m.”

Lots of kids work downtown till eight or later and have no way home, said a 17-year-old at the centre.

Their choices are hitchhike, take a cab or try to call family or friends, said the young woman.

“I think the bus should run till 10 or 11 at night.” 

Youth trading sex for rides is not a city issue, said mayor Ernie Bourassa, who had no previous knowledge of this problem.

“It sounds more like an RCMP issue,” he said.

But the city runs the transit system and regulates cabbies.

“I have done a number of presentations for the city,” said Durrant.

“And they said they don’t deal with social issues, YTG does.

“But they are creating social problems through their transportation system.”

The Youth Coalition, comprised of various youth-oriented groups in the territory, is currently working on a program titled Safe Rides Safe Places, to address the risks youth face trying to get home, or to safe shelter.

“There definitely is a call out,” said Jones, who is also a member of the Youth Coalition.

“We hear it from the youth and we hear it from the service providers.”

With procedure, plans and policy in place, the Safe Rides program is currently waiting for monetary support from both the federal and provincial governments.