Vancouver agencies call for boycott of accused prostitute killer's name

Stephanie Levitz
Canadian Press

Saturday, January 13, 2007

VANCOUVER (CP) - It's time to stop conferring celebrity-like status on a man accused of murdering 26 women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and continuing to repeat his name doesn't help, says a coalition of agencies working in the notorious neighbourhood.

Artist's sketch shows accused Robert Pickton as he appeared in B.C. Supreme Court for his jury selection on December 11, 2006 in New Westminster, B.C. A coalition of agencies says it is time to stop conferring celebrity-like status on Pickton.

(CP/Artist/Jane Wolsak)

In a letter being issued to the media before Robert Pickton goes on trial Jan. 22 charged with killing six of the women, the agencies say they will no longer use his name in any interviews they do.

"In a case as high-profile as this, the accused often becomes the centre of a lot of media attention and often achieves an almost celebrity status," the letter reads.

"This type of notoriety is well-known to be a driving factor as far as motive within the accused person's choices when committing these crimes."

The agencies are asking the media to also stop using Pickton's name and refer to the trial as "the trial in the case of the missing women."

The letter is part of a package being distributed to media in the hopes of controlling the expected frenzy of reporters descending on the neighbourhood to report on the sex trade industry.

Many of the women Pickton is accused of killing worked as prostitutes and it's expected their day-to-day lives will be the subject of much media attention.

Activist Sue Davis says it has happened before, recalling the zoo of reporters who flocked to the neighbourhood following the arrest of Donald Bakker in 2002.

Bakker eventually pled guilty to charges of assaulting three Vancouver prostitutes and Cambodian children and was sentenced to ten years in prison.

"A woman reported to me she had been approached (by reporters) seven times in one day," said Davis, who speaks for Prostitution Alternatives Counselling Education.

The letter also offers tips so media can get the footage they want without violating people's privacy.

"Photograph from afar so people appear as silhouettes," the letter reads. "Ambush-style reporting on survival level sex workers in particular is seen as particularly unethical."

There is no intention of starting a war with the media, but awareness of the impact this kind of attention can have is crucial, said Kate Gibson, the executive director of WISH Drop-in Centre Society.

"We all know that some of those questions could really bring somebody to their knees, all the memories they would have, all the fears it could instil, all the uncertainties that come of that," Gibson said.

Of concern is also the possibility that what women say to the media now will haunt them the rest of their lives.

"Sometimes people have pictures that are shown that aren't of them doing the greatest things and they can be damaging," said Kelly Woloshansky, the youth liaison at the Prostitution Empowerment Education Resource Society.

"Especially when someone decides to go into recovery and some of the pictures are kept and shown."

The package will contain facts about the sex trade and a DVD of film footage from current sex-workers sharing their thoughts and comments about their lives and the case.

The agencies say it is important that women have a voice in coverage of the trial but also want to make sure they know the implications of what they're saying.

So sex trade workers will also receive a hand-out with a list of do's and don'ts in dealing with the press.

The pamphlet reminds the women that they have the right to refuse an interview or to decline to share any personal information.

It also tells them they can't demand money for their time and that reporters have the right to film them in public places - but they have the right to walk away.

"Once you talk to the media and it is in print and on TV, you can't take it back, you can't change it, it can be known forever, it is not something that can be erased or forgotten," Woloshansky said.

 The Canadian Press 2007



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