I had the pleasure of interviewing Elizabeth Hudson on my Radio show “Missing Pieces” in December of 2006.
Elizabeth is the author of “Snow Bodies”
You can listen to Elizabeth’s interview on www.MissingPieces.info at this archive location.
Elizabeth was also kind enough to write the below commentary explaining why women who work the streets carry little or no identification.
The Sex Trade and Identity Loss
Why do women who work the street carry little if no identification?
This question is one often asked of me. I can only answer that the shedding of all identification is a vital survival tactic for women/men involved in the drug culture and by their association the street sex trade. I know it is difficult to understand why anyone would purposely lose their identity, but this is street thinking. And as a woman, who once lived this high-risk lifestyle and one with multiple convictions, I concluded quickly and rightly so if the police questioned me or picked me up, my best defense was an alias. Therefore I never carried identification. An alias guaranteed, “Clean with no known record.” The Police left with nothing except my word would then release me from the back seat of their Police cruiser. Therefore to be me meant …incarceration; to be someone else…freedom.
To complicate matters further identification on the street is viewed as a valuable commodity and is therefore frequently stolen by those in the street culture from others in the street culture. This theft of identity opens wide the probability that those most dear to us are put at risk for frauds, break & enters, and home invasions. I know within weeks of arriving on the street I discovered the theft of my identification. Shortly after this theft and no doubt consequently because of it my parents were stuck with an exorbitant phone bill. Those who had stolen my identification could certainly have used this personal information for far more insidious crimes. So to buffer those I loved from the life I was leading, I did not replace my stolen identification. Family, friends, phone numbers, and street addresses, were now retained in the one place no one had access to, my memory.
My baptized name had the power to cue the police to who I was and as a known sex trade worker and heroin addict it was just too risky to use it. I became Debbie Smith and when Debbie became known to Police as one of my alias’s I used another name and then another. I was in retrospect always someone else and my real identity known only to a few close friends.
Loss of identity embodies also a frightening and well known peril on the street and that was and is the violence done there. I knew if I were murdered few could identify me. Street life is inherently violent and few will remain untouched by the terrifying dangers coexisting within this lifestyle. In one incident a man and I don’t think of him as a man but a beast was furiously punching me and in blow after blow, I could not escape the horrifying thought I might die alone, in a seedy Vancouver hotel room in China town. My life ended by swinging fists. Yet worse and more alarming was the fear no one would discover who perpetrated this violence against me. I concluded I would most likely be nameless in death; just another jane doe. I was lucky that time and escaped but many women on the street do not escape the violent acts inflicted upon them, all of which are possible through the vulnerabilities of both their profession and their addictions. So I and all the sex trade workers of my acquaintance lived with the reality we could fall victim to violence, but our fear of incarceration was greater and so the longer we were on the street the longer grew our list of alias’s.
Any woman who has been on the street for a period of time has her tattoos and track marks recorded. As a sex trade worker and early in my career, the length of my track mark, its location and my jailhouse tattoo were photographed and catalogued by the Vice Squad. At the time of this painstaking examination of my body I thought this practice macabre. I understood the marks of my street life might in death identify me, and then only if my body was discovered sooner rather than later. This was a small comfort. Why I wondered and still do does society photograph and measure for death, but does not protect or make safe those still living?
It is a sad fact then that in our society sex trade workers are with alarming frequency denied their names in death too. I believe everyone deserves and has a right to their name. A name is who you are and who you were. To have died without your name is testament to horror and a lasting indignity. “The DOE Network” provides an invaluable service to all nameless murdered victims by trying to gift back their names and bring closure and some sense of peace for their families. The nameless are then returned and remembered for whom they were a truly priceless gift your name.
Elizabeth Hudson is author of Snow bodies, “One Woman’s Life on the Streets.”