Dr. Jacqueline Holler

Getting hitchhikers’ perspectives

A university study is underway to see what hitchhikers have to say about their experiences.

While government and groups hold sessions to discuss solutions to hitchhikers going missing or being murdered, a university study is underway to see what hitchhikers have to say about their experiences.

University of Northern BC professor Dr. Jacqueline Holler, associate professor department of history, women’s studies and gender studies, is advertising with a poster that participants in her study can either fill out a survey online or be interviewed or both and she and her graduate students who are working with her are looking to hear from women and men.

“We now have well over 100 responses, and we are hoping to get many more over the next couple of months!” said Holler last week. “So far, we are learning that people’s experiences with hitchhiking are diverse, and so are people’s reasons for hitchhiking.”

There isn’t one reason, such as poverty, for hitchhiking, as many people seem to think, she said, adding that people who hitchhike think a lot about how to be safe.

“Many of them have pointed out to us that hitchhiking is just one arena in which safety is an issue; so when we ask about whether hitchhiking is safe, the question is always ‘compared to what’?” she said, adding that study participants have shared many of their strategies for staying safe.

However, she added that since the study is ongoing and interviews haven’t started yet, she didn’t want to share specific comments so as not to skew the results of the study.

She did say that men’s answers definitely differ from women’s for many issues including the issue of safety and the gender differences aren’t simplistic.

“Some men also have scary experiences and feel unsafe while hitchhiking,” she said. “I’m so happy now that we decided to talk to all genders rather than to focus only on women; we really have a richer sense of how gender affects hitchhiking and look forward to exploring that further in the interviews we are currently scheduling.”

And ethnicity and age affect people’s experiences while hitchhiking, she added.

Participants have really reflected a range of experience of how often and how far they hitchhike: some don’t hitchhike any more, some have only hitchhiked in a very local area, while others have hitchhiked throughout BC and in other places and countries, said Holler. Some hitchhike only occasionally, for example, when a ride falls through or they are between jobs and short of cash, while others hitchhike extensively and have taken hundreds of trips, she said.

Study indications are that younger people are more likely to hitchhike, and many started hitchhiking at a young age, but others hitchhike into middle age and beyond.

“So there really isn’t a ‘typical’ hitchhiker, just as there isn’t a ‘typical’ plane passenger or car driver,” said Holler. “There is, however, a lot of stereotyping of hitchhikers, which is something that our participants are aware of.”

Many people have told of good experiences while hitchhiking, for example, being picked up by a particularly kind or generous driver, and many people have said that they like meeting new people, she added.

“At the same time, people have had truly hair-raising experiences while hitchhiking, and I am humbled that people have shared those experiences with us too,” said Holler, adding participants have told of all kinds of interesting, unexpected, and surprising things. “My heart goes out to everyone who has had one of those experiences; I want them all to know that we hear their words with respect and empathy.” Quite a few people have told about being picked up by a driver and discovering that the person had been drinking and was driving dangerously, a frightening situation, she said.

“I can’t tell you how grateful I and the research team are to the people who have completed our survey,” said Holler. “They are the experts on hitchhiking, and our findings are going to be so much stronger because of those who are participating in our work.”

She added that they are looking forward to sharing their data in winter 2016. The survey continues to the end of 2015, and then begins data analysis in January, she said.

Anyone interested in taking the survey can find it at http://www.fluidsurveys.com/s/hitchhiking or see www.facebook.com/unbchitchhiking. And if you want to be interviewed, the study team is in the Terrace area in mid-October and can be contacted at hitchhiking@unbc.ca.