The Niagara Region Is Not The Honeymoon Capitol

Let me start off by saying hello everyone.  My name is Renee, and I am the author of womanist musings.  My blog is dedicated to bringing attention to bodies that matter from a black feminist perspective.  In the normal turn of events people that negotiate spoiled identities, are subject to discrimination and negative stereotypes that severely limit life chances.  It is the goal of my blog to bring attention to these issues in an effort to assert a common humanity for us all.

I want to say thanks to the ladies at feministe for this wonderful opportunity and I hope that we can engage in some fun and meaningful conversation.  Let’s start off by debunking the myth that Niagara Falls (my home) is a wonderful honeymoon retreat.

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.

image

image

Stephine Beck

(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.

Author: has written 38 posts for this blog.

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39 Responses

  1. DEAF FEMINIST PUNK!!!
    DEAF FEMINIST PUNK!!! June 23, 2008 at 5:31 pm |

    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.

    So what do you suggest we call them, then?

    Yeah I think it’s really sad how women in the sex industry (prostitution???) are devalued, looked down, objectified, degraded, and considered worthless and not worth caring about when it comes to justice.

    Thanks for posting these photos. It makes this reality a little bit more real and hard-hitting.

  2. natmusk
    natmusk June 23, 2008 at 5:35 pm |

    very moving post. I had heard that Niagra Falls was notorious for a place for both body dumping and suicide. My friend and her family actually came across a body on their vacation there. It just always saddens me to hear about how horribly sex industry workers are treated and this is as bad as it gets.

  3. dinogirl
    dinogirl June 23, 2008 at 5:53 pm |

    Deaf Feminist Punk, I’d suggest we call them women. Not sex workers, not prostitutes, not hookers, not whores. Women.

    Great post Renee, I’m looking forward to reading more from you.

  4. Daomadan
    Daomadan June 23, 2008 at 6:18 pm |

    I’m glad to see you over here Renee. I love your home blog and just started reading it a while back.

  5. Iris
    Iris June 23, 2008 at 6:41 pm |

    As a lifelong resident of St. Catharines, it’s fairly mind-blowing to see our regional deaths featured on such a prominent site. It’s also nearly impossible for me to be in any way objective. No wonder my mother doesn’t let me leave the house by myself after dark.

  6. Jack
    Jack June 23, 2008 at 6:54 pm |

    Seconding what dinogirl said, and adding that the problem is maybe not so much that these women are identified primarily as sex workers in media coverage, but that such identification is used to explain away or even justify their murders. You don’t see that happening with other professions; victims’ jobs may be identified, but not in the same, central, explanatory way.

    Also – welcome, Renee, and thanks for a great first post.

  7. Betsy
    Betsy June 23, 2008 at 7:37 pm |

    Great post.
    Can I ask what you mean by “spoiled” identities? That’s not a term I’m familiar with. Thanks!

  8. bastard.logic
    bastard.logic June 23, 2008 at 8:40 pm |

    Read this now (The honeymoon is over)…

    by matttbastard
    Renee of Womanist Musings is guestblogging at Feministe for the next two weeks. Her inaugural post is a must-read:
    When you think of the Niagara region immediately the mind turns to the majestic falls.  Some who have spent more than an…

  9. ouyangdan
    ouyangdan June 23, 2008 at 9:41 pm |

    Renee! Great to see you here! It’s like feministe swipes up all of my favorite bloggers! it excites me so!

    Out fucking standing first post (as you know how i feel about equating people w/ their jobs).

    My response to “what do we call them” would also be “women”.

    When someone is murdered, why does their occupation or addictions, sexual history, sexual preference or whether they were right or left handed have anything to do w/ their murder? They are women, they were murdered. Their deaths are a tragedy. There is no need to “other” them like that.

    great first post. looking forward to more!

  10. tenacitus
    tenacitus June 24, 2008 at 12:17 am |

    To answer the first poster the victims should be called either victims, or better yet women. I could not read the whole post, since it was such a downer. But I am very glad that the writer is bringing more attention to this. Unfortunately some of my neighbours in the powderhorn neighborhood of Minneapolis target the sex workers instead of their johns and pimps would probably beat them up so they target the weakest, most victimized people in the sex industry instead of focusing their ire on the producers of white slavery.

  11. the15th
    the15th June 24, 2008 at 12:42 am |

    Thank you for standing up for the humanity of these women without smearing victims like Kristen French as spoiled or privileged. I’ve seen too many nonfeminist blogs take that approach to unequal media coverage of violence against women; your sensitive approach is badly needed.

  12. Iris
    Iris June 24, 2008 at 1:28 am |

    @ Renee
    Oh, definitely. I have to say I posted that after only reading your post really quickly just because of the whole “holy shit Niagara hey guys come look we’re on feministe” factor. But yes, I completely agree with what you are saying. I’ve always found the whole Falls culture is pretty off-putting in the first place before considering these women. Because I, of course, like many, didn’t consider them until you pointed it out. Have the local papers even covered any of these stories?

  13. Alexandra V.
    Alexandra V. June 24, 2008 at 1:33 am |

    Wow. I had no idea. I’ve been there once, as a side trip from visiting relatives in Western New York, but… wow. Sad.

    Thank you for humanizing these women!

  14. Natalia Antonova
    Natalia Antonova June 24, 2008 at 2:05 am | *

    When the victim is not sufficiently attractive/virginal/middle-class, a murder may go virtually unnoticed. I’ve seen this happen with both men and women, but in the case of female sex workers, it’s particularly bad.

    Renee, your post here reminded me of the time there was a conviction for a serial murderer who targeted sex workers in Charlotte. I’m pretty sure that most of his victims were not white. Anyway, I was at a gas station when I overheard some people talking about it: “It’s just a bunch of hookers,” they said.

    The mind boggles.

  15. Robyn
    Robyn June 24, 2008 at 3:42 am |

    Last year, the bodies of four murdered women were found in a marsh behind a motel in my area. The murders are still unsolved, and they are STILL being referred to as “the four prostitutes” whenever the case is mentioned on the local news. I was watching the local news with my mother the other night and said, “Why can’t they refer to them as ‘women’? They had names, families, lives!”

  16. Robyn
    Robyn June 24, 2008 at 3:45 am |

    Not to mention there’s someone still out there who may strangle other women.

  17. janinsanfran
    janinsanfran June 24, 2008 at 6:33 am |

    In the 1980s, women of the Pacific Northwest were pursued by the “Green River” killer. You can see the faces of his victims here.

  18. Radfem
    Radfem June 24, 2008 at 10:08 am |

    Good post and good to see you here, Renee.

    We had 19 women killed out here and someone interviewed on television about the serial killings as most of the women were sex workers, was about how the killer was “cleaning up the trash”. Funny, that’s exactly how the killer saw it. He was caught and is now on death row. I had a friend who worked for the county and said the guy was delivering office supplies regularly to the task force hunting him down.

  19. Enigma
    Enigma June 24, 2008 at 11:04 am |

    Hello all. I am a guy so you know. I am from Niagara Falls and live within a 10 minute walk to where Shari Bacon was murdered. The comminity was in shock over it. Regardless of her ‘trade’, she was a human being and did not deserve this. Niagara Falls is a dirty town with the casinos and all and I wish the city would open a home specifically for the purpose of helping these women, then maybe they could have a place to seek the help they need to be off the streets. Goddess bless Shari, and to the rest. Be safe.

    bertgjohnson@gmail.com

  20. Liz
    Liz June 24, 2008 at 4:55 pm |

    This is a powerful first post; I look forward to reading more from you.

    And thank you for taking a stand on this subject.

  21. Mr.Graves
    Mr.Graves June 24, 2008 at 9:39 pm |

    Great post Renee; I was born in Niagara Falls and know these stories. Even though I am male, I consider myself to be a feminist and it is a constant battle- with both genders.

    Anyways, I wanted to add a little to your post, about the situation in Niagara. It is a fact that 75% of the population is traditional Italian, and while there is nothing wrong with that, rather than embracing progressive attitudes a culture of insulated macho patriarchal values is promoted. Combine this with the fact that Niagara is really a small town with vicious stress due to poor schools, overpopulation of tourists, and predominantly white-male-patriarchal value system, leads to a dangerous situation for a lot of women.
    We know that men commit 9 out of 10 violent crimes and women are the victims of 9 out of 10 violent crimes. In the Niagara region there is a vicious drug problem due to the fact that it is a border gateway, combined with an oppressive and stressful economy that keeps most of the populace paycheck to paycheck, natural equals more crime, so more women being abused.

    We need more support for Nova house, to start. One of the victims you missed was my mothers best friend in high school. I can’t remember her name now, but she lived just a few blocks from Westlane Highschool. A few years ago she was in the process of leaving her abusive husband of many years. As she attempted to bring her children into her car to leave, he pub licly beat her senseless while the children were in the car and then emptied a can of kerosene inside it and burned them all alive while people watched helplessly. I’m sure with a little research at the Review you can find the incident.

    I believe one of the reasons the prostitution trade is in such risk in Niagara Falls is the transient clientel- a person can take a weekend trip to Niagara, leave and never go back- this is a perfect setting for predators. Also, with the drug problem and the fact that most prostitutes are from the USA with crack addictions, it leads to them taking risks they might not have otherwise with a clear head.

    The best way we can work to alleviate this blight of ignorance is to really work on our education system- there are, for all it’s problems, some very enlightened and progressive folks in Niagara working for change.

    Did you know that the Niagara region has (last time I checked) the highest rate of teen pregnancy and single mothers in Canada? I thought maybe you could write a future article on the subject.

    Thanks for bringing the plight of these victims to light.

  22. Renee
    Renee June 26, 2008 at 3:08 pm |

    Sorry I didn’t mean to ignore this thread. Thanks for all of the information Mrs.Graves and yes I will look into the teen pregnancy rate. I thought from observation that alot of young girls were pregnant but I didn’t want to assume. There are a lot of issues in our small city and we need to work together to fix that and it starts as far as I am concerned by telling the truth about it. Yes we need the tourist business but if we don’t address the issues that are wrong in our community there can be no substantive change. If you read this message please contact me at womanistmusingsgmail.com with any further ideas or information you may have on our city.

  23. kate
    kate June 26, 2008 at 3:11 pm |

    the women remembered in this article were also included with thousands of other names of murdered women and girls on the walls of my installation mementomori. i wanted to give lives back to all those nameless faceless women. i have a short video of the installation on my website: http://web.mac.com/gwyllionthegeat/iWeb/Site%202/Welcome.html
    it is movie 1.

  24. Helena
    Helena June 26, 2008 at 3:42 pm |

    @Robyn:Last year, the bodies of four murdered women were found in a marsh behind a motel in my area. The murders are still unsolved, and they are STILL being referred to as “the four prostitutes” whenever the case is mentioned on the local news. I was watching the local news with my mother the other night and said, “Why can’t they refer to them as ‘women’? They had names, families, lives!”

    Do you live around Atlantic City? The NY Times published the story…and they did look at the lives of the four women.

    I hate to say it b/c they don’t deserve it but when I see a victim identified as a “prostitute” I think it’s a dangerous, pitiful lifestyle.

    The fact that they once “danced in the rain” or enjoyed sunshine doesn’t really undo the plight they faced as sex workers. I wouldn’t mind if they were identified as “women” for readers, though, but what would media coverage do…totally omit they were sex walkers because the audience would be incapable of sympathizing or recoiling at the thought of this horrible job and the risk of being raped and worse? (Seriously…is that it? I could understand that)

    Unfortunately a victim’s friends, lifestyle, job, whatever, DO have to do with their deaths. It doesn’t make it right. It’s an inevitable part of an investigation.

    It doesn’t make the murders of these women and the daily dangers they faced any less disturbing.

  25. Liza
    Liza June 26, 2008 at 3:43 pm |

    I’m from Buffalo, which is not far from the falls, and I’m disgusted and saddened, but unfortunately not surprised. In my snooty and affluent Buffalo suburb, Niagara Falls was basically “the other side of the tracks.” Once you got outside the touristy area (which, frankly, is crap on the NY side, Canada has done a much better job of developing it) there’s a lot of crime.

    Obviously these women do NOT deserve to be murdered for their line of work or their location. I’m not saying that by any means.

    And to whoever asked about local papers, no, I don’t recall ever hearing about these kinds of murders from the Buffalo News or any TV source (I forget, does Niagara Falls have its own paper?). Sure, the Bike Path Killer and Barnett Slepian were all over the news (and I’m not saying they shouldn’t have been), but these women? Nah.

    Except, I could be talking complete crap – you don’t mention which Niagara you’re talking about – NY or Canada? I forget which landmarks are on which side.

  26. Renee
    Renee June 26, 2008 at 4:01 pm |

    but what would media coverage do…totally omit they were sex walkers because the audience would be incapable of sympathizing or recoiling at the thought of this horrible job and the risk of being raped and worse?

    The problem is that when they are mentioned they are continually referred to as sex trade workers. The audience gets the point the first time without it being repeated continuously as though that were all that was important about this women.

    Reply@ Liza I was talking about Niagara Falls, On. Our side just looks prettier but it is just as dirty.

  27. Helena
    Helena June 26, 2008 at 7:16 pm |

    @Renee: I should have been clearer the first time(or at least…am still stuck with my question):

    When you say the audience gets the point “the first time…” the first time the story breaks?

    That story Robyn brought up about an serial killer of four prostitutes (as yet unfound…broke in 2006, if she’s referring the story I think) was inescapable from the fact that they were prostitutes….that the women were barely surviving in an incredibly dangerous underground line of work, had difficult histories (with drug addiction, as you mentioned…lost children to the state…and if they had “disappeared” in the past it was because they’d done stints in rehab or in prison).

    When I hear “prostitute” in a story like this I think of a woman (or a minor) in a miserable line of work…they’re hard to trace, hard to follow, even if they WERE easy to follow and keep track of in case something seemed amiss…how many prostitutes are in touch with someone who cares about their day-to-day safety and whereabouts?

    Unless there are family members that actually care…who do these women have to let the police know a woman is missing and be in danger? Their pimps? The johns? Doubt it.

    “as though that were all that was important about this women.”

    What if the details of who they are as women are ugly–foster children lost to the state, or a horrible childhood, or an adolescence spent in the child welfare/juvenile delinquent system family?

    I don’t mean to be cynical…when you say that these women might have enjoyed sunshine or a spring rain, you meant that they enjoyed beauty like anyone else (including audience members)….how do give a background to a victim if the rest of their individual history is equally disturbing?

    Or is it that people may hear “prostitute” and think of a two-dimensional caricature?

  28. Renee
    Renee June 26, 2008 at 7:39 pm |

    Or is it that people may hear “prostitute” and think of a two-dimensional caricature?

    Exactly that…I managed to get a hold of Mrs.Dort Stephines mother and will be doing a post on what Stephine was like. Any reporter could have taken the time to do that but it is much easier to write sex trade worker slain than to invest the victim with a little humanity.

    What I am saying is that we are more than our worst day and until we start to see these women as equals and recognize our shared humanity the community will not view them as a loss.

  29. Radfem
    Radfem June 26, 2008 at 8:12 pm |

    @Robyn:Last year, the bodies of four murdered women were found in a marsh behind a motel in my area. The murders are still unsolved, and they are STILL being referred to as “the four prostitutes” whenever the case is mentioned on the local news. I was watching the local news with my mother the other night and said, “Why can’t they refer to them as ‘women’? They had names, families, lives!”

    And that really hurts the families b/c yeah, many have families. I met the aunt of one woman who was killed by a local serial killer years later and that part of it still hurt a lot. She did say that it was lucky that one female detective who started a fund for the orphaned children of these women who were killed cared enough to practically bully the task force into viewing them as women, outside of being sex workers or drug addicts. But she paid the price later on within her department.

    Still, it can take years like Green River. And I remember the Green River Task Force came to my city to get information on the murders as they did in San Diego County as San Diego County did in my city to see if they were related. Dozens of women dead or missing in all three areas. But not a lot of attention.

  30. Esther
    Esther June 26, 2008 at 10:52 pm |

    Beautiful writing, Renee. Thanks for this.

  31. Liza
    Liza June 28, 2008 at 8:49 pm |

    Reply@ Liza I was talking about Niagara Falls, On. Our side just looks prettier but it is just as dirty.

    K…well everything I said was directed more at the NY side. I guess I’m still not surprised, especially if you’re confirming it’s as high crime an area in ON as it is in NY. Sad, really, because the area has a built-in, natural tourist trap, you’d think they’d be able to make it a nice area. But no.

  32. Katherine
    Katherine July 3, 2008 at 3:10 pm |

    Renee, I live and have grown up in Niagara Falls, ON.
    I’ve heard about most of these in the newspaper over the years and it disgusts me.
    just a few months ago (not even) in a St. Catharine’s man killed a woman (Stephine Beck), threw her in a ditch and only spent ONE DAY in jail (because she was on his property?)…of course it would be different if she wasn’t a sex-trade worker.
    such bullshit.
    I know people were really angry about this and tried get justice, but I’m not sure what came from it.
    http://bastardlogic.wordpress.com/2008/05/16/what-the-fuck/

  33. Katherine
    Katherine July 3, 2008 at 3:20 pm |

    just to add to that, there needs to be a much harsher punishment for these crimes, and something in the community that makes citizens recognize that these women are PEOPLE, with families, children, etc. (renee lets do it!)
    i’ve had heated debates with friends who truly think these women “arnt people” and are basically “asking for it” because of the work they do.
    people need to put their own morality to the side, and try to help the situation instead of ignore it.

  34. Renee
    Renee July 3, 2008 at 3:51 pm |

    Rczack is having his sentence appealed. Hopefully he will serve more time, as he is a threat to our community. The judge claimed that his time in pre-trial custody was the equivalent of a 30 month sentence and therefore he was only made to serve one additional day. The ironic part is that he served about a year awaiting trial so even the 30 month claim does not add up.

  35. Katherine
    Katherine July 4, 2008 at 11:39 am |

    last night i went home and found out a girl i went to elementary school with was murdered on the job, as an escort.
    although it happened in alberta, she was from niagara falls…
    ah, i feel so helpless..

  36. Renee
    Renee July 4, 2008 at 1:10 pm |

    Yesterday I found out about the death of a young girl as well and her father is flying her body back here for burial. I am now wondering if we are talking about the same person.

  37. jerry
    jerry July 8, 2008 at 1:14 am |

    Renee,
    Thanks for your article and your courageous stand. I’m a male feminist and I recently wrote a book about how women have been treated down through the ages.
    Why don’t we just admit that we live in a phallocentric society and stop pretending otherwise? The Greeks worshiped the phallus in public. In a PC world like ours it has to be all private and under the table. Many men think of women as dirt ant that’s the way they treat them. So when women “go bad”–come to think of it, isn’t it men who came up with the ideas of sin and evil, and women-as-evil because of their sinful/sexual nature?–men seem to think they have special license to rape, torture and kill them.

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