By Kenneth Jackson
APTN National News
Already a seasoned sex worker at 12 years-old, Bridget Perrier stands on the shore of Thunder Bay waiting to board “Crazy” Captain Jack’s potash ship to service all the men before their next voyage across Lake Superior.
That’s the first time Perrier, now 37, remembers going on a ship, and she’d go on many, to have sex with sailors as a child.
She wasn’t dragged kicking and screaming, but her “gorilla” pimp would beat her if she didn’t, said Perrier in an interview with APTN National News.
“Of course he’d tell me where to go. If I didn’t go I’d get beat. If I went and didn’t make enough money, I got beat. If I looked like I had a good time, I got beat,” said Perrier, now an advocate helping fellow Indigenous women and girls trapped in the sex trade.
News that Indigenous women from Thunder Bay were being used as prostitutes on ships crossing Lake Superior and the Great Lakes broke late last month when a United States researcher claimed to have evidence.
Christine Stark said women were being “sold” on ships traveling from Thunder Bay to Duluth, Minn.
Perrier told APTN she shared her story with Stark.
“There are more girls from Thunder Bay,” said Perrier. “I do have a friend who went on a ship with me, but she won’t speak to anyone. She won’t even talk about it. I don’t blame her because I don’t think her husband has any idea she has a background.”
She said women often get “shamed” into not coming forward.
APTN asked the Ontario Provincial Police if they have any knowledge of women being used as prostitutes on ships.
One high ranking officer said while they haven’t heard of any specific claims it wouldn’t be a surprise women were in the sex trade business, but the OPP does not believe women have been sold from one pimp to the next on the ships.
Thunder Bay police reportedly don’t have any knowledge of it either.
Perrier said she usually went on the boat when docked at harbour. Typically, her pimp wouldn’t allow her to be taken across Lake Superior, but she does recall it happening a couple times.
She would stay with family in Duluth. She doesn’t remember going any further.
Perrier said she knew going on a ship was like playing Russian Roulette with her life. She would always go on with another girl.
“I remember one night we went on and they had been drinking,” she said of one of the times she left harbour on a ship. “I remember it getting really wild and this one guy was showing us the jail cells…I thought ‘oh gosh, if something happens this is Lake Superior you can’t jump off the boat.'”
She said, as far as she knows, no women went missing or were murdered.
But, quickly adds, it’s not like there would have been anyone looking for them.
She said her first time would have been around 1988 and would continue for several years, on and off. She thinks she got on about 15 ships.
The ship sex was seasonal. Every spring thaw brought the sailors, and the pimps with the girls, said Perrier.
Perrier said she was considered high-end because she had “shelf life” due to her young age.
Perrier’s story has been widely shared in the media. Her first pimp was a woman who had a daughter the same age. She then was controlled by what she called a “gorilla” pimp, meaning the man would be watching her 24/7.
She left that man, who worked with an accomplice, when she was 16 and went back to Thunder Bay where she met up with someone else in organized crime.
She finally got out of the sex trade when she was 20 years-old.