Highway of Tears 7c - The 'high risk' narrative and victim blaming


The ‘high risk’ narrative

A small billboard protrudes out of bushes and in front of trees. It reads 'Hitchhiking - Is it worth the risk?' with an icon of a person's hand making a hitchhiking gesture with a strike through it and an illustration of a young woman walked alone down a highway lined with crosses and smaller text that reads 'ain't worth the risk, sister'.

[imagecaption] Published on ‘A Thousand Turns…notes on finding my way home’ blog, 2009. Photo: Anna Kortschak. [/imagecaption]

‘Stereotypes about the sexual availability and willingness of Aboriginal girls and women has resulted in generations of sexual violence and abuse continuing outside the law, as though it was not illegal to rape or batter an Aboriginal woman.’

Sarah Hunt (Kwakwaka’wakw)


Multiple billboards along the Highway of Tears present hitchhiking as a dangerous mode of mobility that threatens the safety of Indigenous women and girls in particular. They construct hitchhiking as a bad or risky form of mobility that makes Indigenous women and girls prone to victimisation. The actual threat – male violence – is obscured. The focus is on the ‘lifestyle choices’ and ‘behaviours’ of Indigenous women and girls rather than the colonial and racist attitudes that fuel gendered and racialised violence. While the billboards attempt to deter women and girls from hitchhiking, they do not suggest an alternative form of mobility that would be accessible and safe  (Morton, 2016). Like the ‘gone walkabout’ narrative in Australia, the focus on the risky ‘lifestyle’ of Indigenous women draws on colonial stereotypes of  the wayward, unreliable and ungovernable native.

‘Of all of the hurtful experiences associated with the vanishing of a loved one, one of the most is the racism displayed when our First Nations loved ones disappear. We hear things like “I heard she was just a party animal,” or, “Was she wanted by the cops?” Or, the worst of all, that she “lived a high-risk lifestyle.” These labels have taught mainstream society that all our women and girls are just that – prostitutes, addicts and hitchhikers, and therefore not worthy of care or effort.’

Gladys Radek, Aunty of Tamara Chipman quoted in the Final Report of the National Inquiry into MMIWG


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