Ghetto made sex trade workers easier prey: inquiry

Street prostitution subject to two-tiered law enforcement, expert testifies

SFU criminologist John Lowman is an expert in prostitution. He testified Thursday at the Missing Women Inquiry.

Police harassment was one of many factors that made Vancouver street-level prostitutes easier prey for serial killer Robert Pickton, B.C.’s Missing Women Inquiry heard today.

SFU criminologist John Lowman, an expert on prostitution, testified police used a variety of tactics in the 1990s – from confiscating condoms to taking sex-trade workers on one-way “starlight tours” to distant areas – to get them out of residential areas where they irked neighbours.

Prostitutes were pushed into a low-visibility industrial tract north of Hastings Street, where they ended up more vulnerable to predators, he said.

Once the residential nuisance problem was solved, Lowman said, police were less likely to pay attention to the issues of sex-trade workers, many of whom reported hostility or indifference from officers.

One of the women Pickton murdered – Sarah de Vries – wrote in her journal that police told her she “deserved” what she got after a client drove her to a wooded area near Port Moody and nearly killed her.

Lowman said police on the North Shore didn’t receive bad date sheets with licence plate numbers of violent johns that were regularly sent out by Downtown Eastside groups because North Vancouver RCMP wouldn’t cover the postage costs to mail them over to their detachment.

The lower-rung prostitutes ultimately targeted by Pickton were already more vulnerable.

Lowman said they couldn’t afford a $20 hotel room to turn a trick in relative safety – as some other street workers in a “high track” stroll could – so they tended to make riskier decisions about who they would serve and where they’d go, especially when desperate for drugs.

A woman might end up at Trout Lake in Burnaby, he said, or the Pickton farm in Port Coquitlam.

“She is alone with somebody who might be a predator,” Lowman said. “She is at much, much greater risk.”

He characterized the most vulnerable as “survival sex” workers who must feed an addiction. Some start as young as age 12 and may come from impoverished aboriginal families, damaged by family violence, abuse and fetal alcohol syndrome.

“The women who are the most disadvantaged are the most abused,” Lowman said.

Youths not yet eligible for welfare can end up on the street, addicted and turning to prostitution. Sometimes, he said, addicted boyfriends make them sell their bodies for drug money.

Canada’s laws that criminalize communication for the purposes of prostitution mean a woman attacked by her customer must effectively confess to a crime to lodge a report with police, he added.

In contrast, Lowman said, the 80 to 95 per cent of prostitution that happens off the street – in massage parlours, corner stores or arranged through escort agencies or over the Internet – is effectively legal and virtually unobstructed by police.

“It’s a two-tier system of prostitution law enforcement in Canada,” he said. “Fundamental changes need to be made at every level.”

In criminal injury cases, Lowman noted, women injured through prostitution have been denied compensation on the grounds the work they do is inherently dangerous.

“Imagine telling that to a firefighter.”

Lowman was the first witness to testify at the inquiry into how police agencies failed to catch Pickton much sooner.

Demonstrators conducted a vigil for Pickton’s victims outside the inquiry Wednesday, blocking traffic at Granville and West Georgia for a third straight day.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dr. Bonnie Henry given a Gitxsan name: ‘one who is calm among us’

The provincial health officer was honoured in a May 22 ceremony at elementary school in Hazelton

A second wave of COVID-19 is probable, if history tells us anything

B.C.’s top doctor says that what health officials have learned this round will guide response in future

Smithers woman awarded $55K in RCMP excessive force suit

Irene Joseph alleged false arrest and assault and battery related to a 2014 incident in Smithers

Cannabis shop soon to open in Witset

Indigenous Bloom shop to be followed by cannabis cultivation facility in closed down sawmill

Celebrations continue for Tsilhqot’in Nation after court victory against Taskeo Mines Ltd.

Supreme Court of Canada upholds 2014 decision rejecting New Prosperity mine on May 14, 2020

28 soldiers test positive for COVID-19 after working in Ontario care homes

Nearly 1,700 military members are working in ong-term care homes overwhelmed by COVID-19

B.C. poison control sees spike in adults, children accidentally ingesting hand sanitizer

Hand sanitizer sales and usage have gone up sharply amid COVID-19 pandemic

B.C. man with Alberta plates gets car keyed and aggressive note

Some out-of-province people are finding hostile reception due to COVID-19 worries

B.C. drive-in theatre appeals COVID-19 concession rules, 50-car limit

With 50 cars and the removal of concession sales, drive-in owner says theatre might have to close

Introducing the West Coast Traveller: A voyage of the mind

Top armchair travel content for Alaska, Yukon, BC, Alberta, Washington, Oregon and California!

COVID-19: B.C. grants aim to stabilize sexual assault recovery programs

$10 million fund not yet ready to take applications

B.C. mom’s drug-pricing petition on behalf of son garners thousands of signatures

Petition geared to gaining access to new medicines drew support of Chilliwack-Hope MP Mark Strahl

‘Paralyzed by fear’: B.C. woman details anxiety, grief at Italian relief hospital

Sheila Vicic spent two months in Italy as the country grappled with COVID-19

Most Read