VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Online news site sending two former prostitutes to cover Pickton trial
January 9, 2007
VANCOUVER (CP) - Two former prostitutes will be among the hundreds of media covering the murder trial of Robert Pickton, a Vancouver-based news website has announced.
The two women spent a number of years as sex trade workers in Vancouver and both knew some of the victims in the case, Orato.com said.
They came forward after the website put out a public call for reporters last week.
Pauline VanKoll, one of the newly-minted reporters, said she can still see Sarah DeVries' face in her mind every time she watches coverage of the case.
DeVries is among the 26 women, many of them sex trade workers, who Pickton has been charged with killing.
His trial on six murder charges is expected to begin on Jan. 22.
"I'm a voice for them, more or less, and for the other women who are on the street," VanKoll, 42, said of her new role.
"There are so many people out there who think we're not people and that we don't have feelings and a lot of the girls out there do have a story to tell."
Orato's editor-in-chief Paul Sullivan said he met with both of the women on Friday and they were keen to be a part of trial coverage.
The other reporter, Trisha Baptie, 33, had been planning to attend the trial anyway, Sullivan said.
"They are going to go there when it is appropriate to be there," Sullivan said. "We are asking them to shape their own coverage."
VanKoll said she worked in the sex trade for 20 years, driven there by a need to raise money to support her three children.
Over her years in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, VanKoll said she eventually became numb to the pain and insanity of street life and ended up like a "walking zombie."
She escaped the cycle of violence thanks to a man she calls her Prince Charming, now her husband.
"I can relate to Pretty Woman, you know the movie, and I can also relate to that movie Monster, because you just numb right out, you stop feeling, you don't care anymore, you lose touch with all reality," she said.
VanKoll left the sex trade six years ago, just as worldwide attention began to focus on the cases of women disappearing from the Downtown Eastside.
She's since taken a course to become a legal secretary and worked as a home healthcare aide until rheumatoid arthritis forced her to quit.
Orato issues stories written by so-called citizen journalists and Sullivan said his website is deliberately looking for subjectivity in its coverage.
"I want to hear their stories," he said.
Sullivan said he hopes to have the women officially accredited as journalists this week.
Court services spokesman Mark Jan Vrem said he doesn't see a problem with granting accreditation to the two women as Orato.com is a "bona fide" media outlet.
More than 300 journalists have signed up to cover the trial, which is expected to last for a year.
However, a spokeswoman for a group that advocates for sex-trade workers said she's worried about the toll the trial will take on the women.
"I worry about workers being triggered about events they've endured while listening to that kind of evidence," said Sue Davis, of Prostitution Alternatives Counselling Education, known as P.A.C.E.
Davis said she's too emotionally connected to the case to have volunteered to be a citizen journalist and hopes the site operators and the women have talked about what the potential emotional fallout could be.
VanKoll said she isn't worried.
"I've seen a lot living on the street and I've gone through a lot. I've almost died myself," said VanKoll. "That could have been me."
Sullivan said he had also raised those concerns with the women.
"I said that I would feel awful if anything came up that caused them pain in any way," he said. "In a way they see it as part of the process of getting a perspective on this whole phenomenon."
The women will not be paid, but Orato.com will cover transportation and meal expenses, as well as child care if necessary.
They've also retained the services of a lawyer who will vet the coverage for any potential legal concerns.
Though wary of the process, Davis did applaud the website's initiative to bring the voices of sex workers into trial coverage.
"It was a well-meant gesture on their part to offer something like this," she said.
"It's really cool to have the community wanting to engage sex workers and bring them back in. I see this whole sort of community mending, everybody coming back together. It is wonderful."
Updated: August 21, 2016