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.

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

Alphabet Zoo Early Learning Centre wants to relocate from Langford to 3322 Fulton Rd. in Colwood, but has not been approved for a P-6 zoning by Colwood council. Residents who neighbour the property, have expressed concern to the Goldstream Gazette regarding the potential daycare site. Neighbours Ryan Landa and Selene Winchester said the noise of construction has been disruptive to the area, and the property is not suitable for a daycare. (Photo contributed/Ryan Landa)
Proposed West Shore daycare stirs up controversy amongst neighbours

Neighbouring property owners are concerned about traffic, noise that a daycare would bring to the area

According to Statistics Canada, new housing starts and value of building permits in Greater Victoria rose in January 2021 compared to January 2020. (Black Press Media File)
New housing starts, value of building permits up in Greater Victoria

Cost of new housing also rising in region, now in excess of $1.15 million for a new detached home

The designation of March as Distracted Driving Awareness Month is among several measures designed to stop the use of hand-held phones. In 2018, Sidney/North Saanich RCMP, North Saanich Fire, BC Ambulance and ICBC partnered with Parkland drama students who played the role of driver, passenger and witness to simulate a car crash designed to prevent students from texting and driving. (Black Press Media File)
Police across Greater Victoria step up enforcement of distracted driving

More than a third of B.C. drivers admit to using phone while driving, even as most denounce practice

West Shore RCMP is asking for the public’s help in locating Mackenzie Courchene, a Langford teenager.
MISSING: Mackenzie Courchene last seen in Langford on March 2

West Shore RCMP is asking for the public’s help in locating the Langford teenager

Rendering of the proposed Esquimalt public safety building. (Courtesy Township of Esquimalt)
Esquimalt blazes new trail toward modern public safety building

Township using alternative approval process for first time to gauge public support for proposal

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
‘It’s been a good week’: Tam hopeful on vaccines as pandemic anniversary nears

Tam says the addition of two new vaccines will help Canadians get immunized faster

Const. Allan Young. Photo: Abbotsford Police Department
Manslaughter charge laid in Nelson death of Abbotsford police officer

Allan Young died after an incident in downtown Nelson last summer

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is administered to a personal support worker at the Ottawa Hospital on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020 in Ottawa. Doctors in Alberta have signed an open letter asking for prioritized vaccination of health-care staff who work directly with patients on dedicated COVID-19 units. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
COVID vaccines for seniors in B.C.: Here’s how to sign up

Seniors 90+, Indigenous seniors 65+ and Indigenous Elders can book starting March 8

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

The Port Alice pulp mill has been dormant since 2015. (North Island Gazette file photo)
Parts recycled, life returning to inlet as as old Port Alice mill decommissioned

Bankruptcy company oversees de-risking the site, water treatment and environmental monitoring

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Donald Alan Sweet was once an all star CFL kicker who played for the Montreal Alouettes and Montreal Concordes over a 13-year career. Photo courtesy of Mission RCMP.
Ex-B.C. teacher who was CFL kicker charged with assault, sexual crimes against former students

Donald Sweet taught in Mission School District for 10 years, investigators seek further witnesses

Most Read