The discovery of human remains on a farm near Salmon Arm has rattled women working in the Okanagan’s sex trade.
There are currently five women missing from the Vernon-Shuswap area, and while police have not made a public connection to the farm and the missing women, fears are rising.
A mother in Vernon told the Morning Star she was asked to provide a DNA sample to police to help with her missing daughter’s case, although claimed it was unrelated to the Silver Creek farm search.
Whether or it or isn’t won’t change much for those women who are in a vulnerable position.
“The girls on the street know the girls who are missing and they’re concerned, but they’ve always been concerned about what’s been happening,” said Angie Lohr, of HOPE Outreach, an organization that brings night-time care to vulnerable women in Kelowna and Vernon.
“This isn’t anything new. It happens every freaking day. These girls are beat on every day. They’re abused every day and they’re murdered every day.”
Curtis Sagmoen is currently in custody related to an incident stemming from Aug. 27 and is connected to the property currently being searched by police.
He is charged with the following: disguising face with the intent to commit offence, intentionally discharging a firearm while reckless, uttering threats, careless use or storage of a firearm, possessing a weapon for dangerous purpose and possession of controlled substance.
On Oct. 13, Vernon RCMP reported they were investigating an Okanagan man in relation to an alleged incident involving threats made to a woman. Police said they initially responded to the incident on Aug. 28.
Lohr said it’s wonderful that one woman was brave enough to speak up when a meet-up went dangerously awry, which possibly led to the discovery on the rural property. But she wants to know why more wasn’t done to protect others who were on the street between then and now.
“Why didn’t the RCMP say there was a safety concern in August?” she said. “Why did they wait three more weeks? What’s being done to safeguard these women?”
Lohr said she knows the RCMP are busy, but suspects that issues with sex trade workers fall to the bottom of the pile all too often.
It’s why Lohr goes out with her army of volunteers every night and provides harm reduction kits and an occasional shoulder to cry on.
Concerns around this vulnerable population have also earned the attention of Kelowna tech company YodelMe that’s created an app that allows people to stay in touch, regardless of where they are, through satellite signals.
“They contacted HOPE Outreach and they’re going to do a pilot project with us,” said Lohr, explaining they’ve yet to launch it, but it will be free once its done.
“In my past in the sex trade I would have used it. I would have been excited about it,” she said.
Greg ter Wolbeek, business development manager for YodelMe said he learned about HOPE Outreach through a news article and said that he immediately thought their app could help and brought the idea back to his team, who agreed.
“Essentially it’s a safety tool developed originally for the oil patch to keep workers connected and safe,” he said.
Its been up and running for six months in the oil patch and there was also a pilot project done with BC Wildfire.
Whether it will work with vulnerable women remains to be seen, but ter Wolbeek said it’s worth a try.
“If something goes wrong, you press emergency, and then you will be geotagged,” he said, adding the system can be accessed anywhere in the world.