Pickton planned to kill before picking up prostitutes: expert

BY: NEAL HALL, VANCOUVER SUN  October 14, 2011

Serial killer Robert Pickton premeditated his murders before picking up prostitutes in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, an expert witness told the Missing Women Inquiry Thursday.

John Lowman, a Simon Fraser University criminologist who is one of Canada's leading experts on the sex trade, said Pickton posed as a client but was a sex predator who planned to kill vulnerable prostitutes.

"Your opinion is that he had the intent to kill at the time he picked up women?" asked inquiry Commissioner Wally Oppal.

"Correct," Lowman said.

He explained there is situational violence against prostitutes, which includes conflicts arising over price or the services offered, and then there is predatory violence, which involves the man posing as a customer when the real intent is to hurt or kill.

Pickton was a classic predator who targeted women working in an isolated industrial area of the Downtown Eastside with few eyes on the street, Lowman said.

He said street prostitution constitutes only a small portion of the sex trade in Vancouver. Police generally turn a blind eye to escort agencies, massage parlours and other indoor prostitution services, he said.

High-end prostitutes can charge up to $1,000 an hour, while "low track" prostitutes working in the DTES charge as little as $5, Lowman said, explaining the price usually reflects what is needed for the drug they are addicted to, such as $5 for a rock of crack cocaine.

He said a large proportion of DTES sex-trade workers are first nations women who got involved before they were 18 in order to make money to survive, hence the term survival sex.

Many suffered sexual abuse as children, were raised in foster homes, ran away from home and became addicted to drugs while living in the DTES, said Lowman, the inquiry's first witness.

He said there is a high level of mistrust of police among street prostitutes, resulting in women not reporting violence from customers to police.

Cameron Ward, the lawyer representing 18 families of the victims of Pickton, read out for Lowman some of the writings of Sarah deVries. She wrote about being driven to a remote area of Port Moody by a customer, who beat her badly.

She was able escape naked, her eyes almost swollen shut, into some bushes, with the man chasing her.

She eventually got to a road where a passing motorist picked her up, gave her a blanket and drove her to the police station, against her will, where she reported what had happened.

"They said I got what I deserved," deVries wrote.

"It is characteristic of how police officers react," Lowman said.

Police mainly charge low-level street prostitutes and ignore the majority of the city's prostitutes who work indoors, he said.

Such enforcement solved the street nuisance problem, but pushed the women into an isolated DTES area that became the most dangerous prostitution stroll in the city, he added.

"What we did was prioritize property values over human life."

At one point, he appeared to lose his composure, prompting Ward to ask why."I'm frustrated, having watched

for so long," Lowman replied. "We're talking about extreme human suffering and it got to me."

Lowman suggested there needs to be fundamental changes at every level to ensure the safety of street prostitutes. He said police have a duty to keep all citizens safe, including prostitutes.

Lowman is expected to continue his testimony Monday at the inquiry which doesn't sit Fridays.



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

Updated: August 21, 2016