A missing daughter: Jessie Foster's story

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Jessie Foster (right) at her 2002 high school graduation with her mother, Glendene Grant. Jessie went missing in Las Vegas in March 2006 and her mother believes she is the victim of human trafficking. Photo courtesy of Glendene Grant.

This week will be a busy one for Glendene Grant but she describes it as resulting from "a mother's passion for her child." She will appear on radio and TV, give print media interviews, and talk to anyone who will listen.

The Kamloops, B.C., internet technician lost her daughter, Jessie Foster, four years ago, after the 22-year-old disappeared from her home in Las Vegas. Grant has hardly paused in the time since, the trauma of the loss compelling her to reach out in every direction, and across international borders in the effort to locate Foster.

"I absolutely can't stop, but I've had some people ask me why I'm wasting my time. It hurts," Grant said.

For 10 months after Foster settled in Vegas in 2005, Grant or one of her other daughters would hear from her almost daily via e-mail, phone or text message. Then on March 28, 2006 all contact ceased.

If she is still alive, Foster will turn 27 in May. The second oldest of four sisters, she worked at Boston Pizza in Kamloops and later lived with her father in Calgary before starting what was supposed to be a short tour of the United States. Her mother said she had planned to go to college on her return.

But she changed her mind, moving to Las Vegas in May 2005 and telling her family she had met a rich man and fallen in love.

"She told us she liked it there and wanted to stay, and that he was living off a trust fund. We had no reason not to believe her," said Grant, although she added that she was concerned after finding out that Foster had been residing in the U.S. illegally.

For 10 months, Foster regaled her family with stories of the glamour of the casinos and of seeing stars like Cameron Diaz and Justin Timberlake in restaurants. She came home for a Christmas visit and everything seemed fine.

Then, a few months later, she vanished.

Dissatisfied and frustrated with the initial police investigation, the family hired a Las Vegas private detective who uncovered the shattering news that Foster had been working in the Las Vegas sex trade.

As well, they learned Foster had been arrested twice and her boyfriend was not from a rich family, but had gained his apparent wealth from unknown means. He had an ex-wife who had been arrested for prostitution, and he himself had been arrested for spousal abuse, the private detective said. This was confirmed by North Las Vegas police, who have also said he is not considered a suspect in the case.

As the investigation continued, Grant said it became apparent that missing prostitutes do not warrant the same attention as other missing people in the eyes of the police and the news media. She said she has been disappointed by the Las Vegas police response, and that of the FBI, which became involved in Foster's case.

"You are not what you do. It was like she was to blame for what happened to her," Grant said.

The life-changing experience of having a missing child thrust her into a kinship with the families of other missing people.

Initially, the contact was largely with the families of missing Americans since Foster had been lost on U.S. soil. Grant traded information with them, lobbying avidly to get Foster's story on U.S. television -- succeeding with America's Most Wanted and several talk shows including Montel Williams. With her Internet skills, she created websites, as well as Facebook and Myspace pages.

The discovery of a woman's remains in Texas in 2008, led to Grant providing a DNA sample, but it wasn't Foster, and so the search continues.

By that point, Grant said she come to believe that there was a good chance her daughter had been kidnapped by human traffickers.

"The evidence points to this, that she was recruited in Calgary to work in Las Vegas. And there is no body. The more I learn about it, the more I am hoping that we will find her. Politicians and police just need to take this issue more seriously."

The focus has shifted a little closer to home over time as Grant met the families of many missing and murdered women in Canada, particularly in British Columbia. She said the opportunity to take part in Canadian events, like the Women's Memorial March in Vancouver in February, has provided a new kind of sustenance.

"Jessie has been embraced by this community. Everyone has taken her story to heart and she's just become everyone's kid," Grant said, adding it has helped her to feel less isolated.

"At first, my life became something about helping parents of missing children cope, about how you'd get through the day. Now, it's being in touch with forums around the world. Jessie is known around the world. In Canada, I think the issue of human trafficking needs a face and I think that could be Jessie."

In April, Grant hopes to be in Toronto for the first Jessie Foster Awards ceremony. The awards, presented to Canadians who assist in the rescue and rehabilitation of women who have been kidnapped and trafficked, are the idea of Timea Nagy of the new anti-trafficking organization Walk With Me. Nagy herself is a survivor of human trafficking.

"I asked [Grant] because Jessie is the most famous human trafficking case in Canada, and because this is how I would like to show her, as one survivor to another, that we know about her daughter and this is our way of supporting her in her search," said Nagy.

Grant was recently laid off from her tech job with a Kamloops call centre, which closed during the recession, and getting to Toronto may stretch past her budget. But she is determined to go if there is another opportunity to highlight her daughter's case and her life.

She also hopes to one day start a non-profit organization to help rural families caught up in human trafficking, saying they are even more isolated than those who live in cities being cut off as they are from services and other help. In the meantime, she works on behalf of Jessie, as she has nonstop for four years.

"Jessie needs to come back so we can tell her about everything that has happened. Her sisters have had three babies since she disappeared. I would love to tell her about all the people who became involved, who care. She would be amazed. I can picture her standing in the kitchen, shouting ‘No way! No way!'"

Cathryn Atkinson is rabble.ca's news and features editor.



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