Where the women went missing, little has changed

DOWNTOWN EASTSIDE: Degradation, debauchery may even be worse today

David Carrigg
The Province

Sunday, January 21, 2007

On any night, dozens of sickly looking prostitutes are strolling the Downtown Eastside.

CREDIT: Jason Payne, The Province

A prostitute plies her trade in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

"It's no different than it was a decade ago, and maybe worse," said Susan Davis, spokeswoman for Prostitution Alternatives Counselling and Education.

The girls are working the same streets -- covering 21 blocks bordered by Main, Campbell, Powell and Pender streets -- where many of Robert Pickton's alleged victims lived and worked.

Davis, who has been a prostitute in Vancouver since 1992, said violence against women and demand for prostitutes has not changed in the past 10 years.

"When I first came here, I stayed at a hotel on Main Street with about 30 other girls. It was terrible," Davis said. "There were babies that died, women murdered and mentally ill women that would come in wearing a garbage bag and bleeding. The sad thing is that it's still going on."

Last year, Vancouver police blew the whistle on a Downtown Eastside hotel where, they alleged, prostitutes were tortured over drug debts.

Davis said she was recently in the 700-block of East Hastings Street and spotted six women getting into cars within 10 minutes.

"There's still a lot of demand," she said.

Davis points out, however, that there are more services available to Downtown Eastside prostitutes than there were five years ago.

Those include a mobile van that offers support and a bad-date sheet where prostitutes can identify men who have abused them or stolen from them.

Davis also works with Vancouver police to provide sensitivity training.

Insp. John McKay, former commander of the Downtown Eastside, said the number of survival sex workers -- women who turn to prostitution to survive -- on the streets is roughly the same as it was a decade ago.

He said women are still being abused and assaulted in the Downtown Eastside in ways that would horrify the average citizen.

"No one faces more violence down there than women," McKay said. "It's more than anyone could imagine. They are still being beaten and raped by johns and there's still lots of infighting among the girls for territory.

"The Downtown Eastside attracts people looking for sex workers and among those, there are perverts," he said.

"It's still a woman at 2 a.m. standing on a corner and getting into a car with someone they don't know."

McKay co-ordinated a safety training program for prostitutes last year that so far has 100 graduates. He said the Living in Community program is also raising awareness of issues surrounding women who turn to prostitution to survive.

The $200,000, two-year program is working with all groups affected by the sex trade to improve the health and safety of prostitutes.


Three groups provide support for prostitutes in the Downtown Eastside.

-Women's Information and Safe House (WISH).

Formed in 1991, five years after opening a women's-only refuge in the Downtown Eastside.

Operates a drop-in centre for prostitutes and co-ordinates a mobile van and a bad-date sheet.

-Prostitution Alternatives Counselling and Education (PACE).

Formed March 1994.

Provides direct support, finding shelter and referrals for drug detox.

-Prostitution Empowerment Education Resource Society (PEERS).

Opened August 2002. It offers programs to help prostitutes find new work.

Ran with fact box "Support for Prostitutes", which has beenappended to the story.

 The Vancouver Province 2007

The Vancouver Province



Missing Women Tip Line: 1-877-687-3377

Updated: August 21, 2016