VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Police need a new attitude on crimes against prostitutes
The Vancouver Sun
Friday, February 7, 2003
For too long, police have failed to give crimes against prostitutes the attention they deserve. There are a host of social and circumstantial reasons for this.
Prostitutes put themselves at risk, many people say, and they aren't quick to seek the help of the police when they are raped and beaten.
However, we're all entitled to the same basic protections, no matter what we do for a living. Prostitutes suffer no less than the rest of us when they are victims of violent crime.
The case of the 63 women missing from the Downtown Eastside put this issue in stark relief.
It also showed us how badly police can fail us. Claims in the late 1990s by the prostitutes' families and some Vancouver police officers that a serial killer was likely at work didn't lead to prompt, aggressive efforts to deal with the disappearances.
There is now widespread agreement that we need a public inquiry into that complex failure once the trial of Robert (Willy) Pickton, accused of 15 counts of first-degree murder involving some of the women, is concluded.
In the meantime, we must rely on the police to adjust their behaviour so that public confidence in them can be rebuilt.
The revelation Tuesday that police are looking for a serial rapist with a wonky eye who chokes sex-trade workers and makes them plead for their lives was not a confidence-builder.
The Vancouver police first became aware of the attacker last February, but it wasn't until late last summer that the RCMP's Violent Crime Linkage Analysis System linked one Vancouver rape with two in Burnaby and one in Surrey.
"We didn't know that we were all investigating the same person," Vancouver Detective Jim Scott said.
It's true that police have used DNA evidence to eliminate 60 potential suspects with wonky eyes.
But a joint project involving four Vancouver police officers wasn't set up until November. And it wasn't until December that police asked the Downtown Eastside Youth Activities Society to alert those vulnerable to attack through its "bad date" newsletter.
Ironically, the DEYAS bad date sheet had alerted prostitutes to two attacks -- not reported to police -- by a man with a wonky eye last spring.
Now police hope the attacker will be caught through a tip from the public, as a result of the release of the composite drawing on Tuesday.
We understand that local police departments need more staff to deal with the tasks we set out for them. And we appreciate the special challenges of investigating crimes against those who are reluctant to seek help from the police (a problem that feeds on itself.)
But we wonder why other crimes, such as the recent spate of purse-snatchings that resulted in the death of a Richmond woman last month, resulted in a much prompter general appeal for public assistance. Police appeals for help in solving home invasions come almost immediately after the events.
But the crimes committed against the prostitutes began in August; police asked for help only in October.
We accept that there has been real effort to address the concerns raised by the ways police failed the Downtown Eastside missing women. But we also believe that effort must be redoubled.
When a public inquiry does take place, we want it to reveal that the police have learned all the hard lessons that the tragedy presented.
Updated: January 01, 2007