VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
BY: NEAL HALL, VANCOUVER SUN October 14, 2011
Serial killer Robert Pickton premeditated his murders before picking up prostitutes in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, an expert witness told the Missing Women Inquiry Thursday.
John Lowman, a Simon Fraser University criminologist who is one of Canada's leading experts on the sex trade, said Pickton posed as a client but was a sex predator who planned to kill vulnerable prostitutes.
"Your opinion is that he had the intent to kill at the time he picked up women?" asked inquiry Commissioner Wally Oppal.
"Correct," Lowman said.
He explained there is situational violence against prostitutes, which includes conflicts arising over price or the services offered, and then there is predatory violence, which involves the man posing as a customer when the real intent is to hurt or kill.
Pickton was a classic predator who targeted women working in an isolated industrial area of the Downtown Eastside with few eyes on the street, Lowman said.
He said street prostitution constitutes only a small portion of the sex trade in Vancouver. Police generally turn a blind eye to escort agencies, massage parlours and other indoor prostitution services, he said.
High-end prostitutes can charge up to $1,000 an hour, while "low track" prostitutes working in the DTES charge as little as $5, Lowman said, explaining the price usually reflects what is needed for the drug they are addicted to, such as $5 for a rock of crack cocaine.
He said a large proportion of DTES sex-trade workers are first nations women who got involved before they were 18 in order to make money to survive, hence the term survival sex.
Many suffered sexual abuse as children, were raised in foster homes, ran away from home and became addicted to drugs while living in the DTES, said Lowman, the inquiry's first witness.
He said there is a high level of mistrust of police among street prostitutes, resulting in women not reporting violence from customers to police.
Cameron Ward, the lawyer representing 18 families of the victims of Pickton, read out for Lowman some of the writings of Sarah deVries. She wrote about being driven to a remote area of Port Moody by a customer, who beat her badly.
She was able escape naked, her eyes almost swollen shut, into some bushes, with the man chasing her.
She eventually got to a road where a passing motorist picked her up, gave her a blanket and drove her to the police station, against her will, where she reported what had happened.
"They said I got what I deserved," deVries wrote.
"It is characteristic of how police officers react," Lowman said.
Police mainly charge low-level street prostitutes and ignore the majority of the city's prostitutes who work indoors, he said.
Such enforcement solved the street nuisance problem, but pushed the women into an isolated DTES area that became the most dangerous prostitution stroll in the city, he added.
"What we did was prioritize property values over human life."
At one point, he appeared to lose his composure, prompting Ward to ask why."I'm frustrated, having watched
for so long," Lowman replied. "We're talking about extreme human suffering and it got to me."
Lowman suggested there needs to be fundamental changes at every level to ensure the safety of street prostitutes. He said police have a duty to keep all citizens safe, including prostitutes.
Lowman is expected to continue his testimony Monday at the inquiry which doesn't sit Fridays.
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun
Missing Women Inquiry hears more from prostitution expert
BY: NEAL HALL, VANCOUVER SUN October 17, 2011
VANCOUVER -- The majority of women sex trade workers on the street in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside suffer from assault, rape and even being thrown from cars, an expert witness told the Missing Women inquiry Monday.
Kate Shannon, a public health researcher who is a professor in the faculty of medicine at the University of B.C., headed a project that interviewed 255 sex trade workers in the DTES from 2006 to 2008.
She told the inquiry that 57 per cent of the women reported suffering physical and sexual violence during an 18-month period, with 30 per cent reporting being beaten, 25 per cent reporting being raped and 20 recalling being thrown out of a car.
Most women never report the violence to police because of adverse relations between the police and women who work the streets in one of Vancouver's most poverty stricken neighbourhoods, Shannon said.
She recalled that some sex trade workers said if they reported violence to police, officers would sometimes pick up the sex trade workers late at night, detain them without arrest and move them to another area of the city, which is known on the street as a "starlight tour."
Almost 90 per cent of the DTES sex trade workers interviewed for the study said they lived in unstable housing, including 43 per cent saying they were homeless and sleeping on the street.
The majority of the women (73 per cent), knew somebody who had been to Robert Pickton's farm, with nine per cent having been to Pickton's farm, Shannon said.
She also said the study found that 40 per cent of the DTES street prostitutes were of first nations descent.
Shannon was testifying as an expert witness in the health and safety of DTES sex trade workers.
The inquiry, which is probing why it took so long to catch Pickton, is examining the circumstances of many of Pickton's victims who worked the streets in east Vancouver.
Earlier in the day, John Lowman, an expert on prostitution and criminology professor at Simon Fraser University, testified that public campaigns to "get rid of" street-level prostitutes from Vancouver residential areas likely increased violence against sex trade workers on the street.
Sex predators would pick up on this "discourse of disposal" by politicians in the media to justify the violence they perpetrated on street-level prostitutes, he said.
"It gave them tacit approval," Lowman told inquiry Commissioner Wally Oppal.
One of the main targets of repeat sex offenders and serial killers is street-level sex workers, Lowman said.
He also pointed out that his research also indicated that street-level prostitutes working in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside were subject to violence from police.
Lowman said nine per cent said they had been robbed by Vancouver police vice squad officers and uniformed officers, but none of the women reported this to police.
Lowman was questioned by lawyer Jason Gratl, representing Vancouver's Downtown Eastside communities, about the Vancouver police force's displacement and containment strategy to keep prostitutes in a poorly-lit industrial area.
The inquiry is probing why it took so long to catch Pickton, who wasn't arrested until 2002 despite tips about Pickton in 1998.
Pickton, now 62, was eventually charged with 27 murders of women who disappeared from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
The inquiry is also probing why the Crown dropped attempted murder charges against Pickton in 1998.
In 1997, Pickton was charged with trying to kill a prostitute who fled naked and bleeding from the Pickton farm.
The woman, who cannot be identified, had been stabbed by Pickton while he was trying to handcuff her. She flagged down a passing car, which took her to hospital.
The victim, a drug addict and prostitute, was not deemed a credible witness by Crown.
Lowman's testimony has been adjourned until Thursday.
The second witness, Shannon, will continue her testimony Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the first nations protest at Georgia and Granville streets ended after 1 p.m. Monday, with bus service restored to Granville Mall.
The protest began last Tuesday, the first day of the inquiry, to show displeasure of first nations groups who are boycotting the inquiry because the provincial government failure to provide funding for all the advocacy groups granted standing.
The government has only provided legal funding to 18 families of the victims of Pickton.
Some of the families of Pickton's victims were welcomed during a first nations blanket ceremony held in the intersection of Georgia and Granville.
The inquiry is being held eight floors above in a federal courtroom, which could hear the beat of first nations drumming and singing earlier in the day.
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun
Updated: August 21, 2016