Statement by Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter on the Police Investigation of 50 Women Missing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

VANCOUVER - Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter has had contact with a number of women who are on the list of 50 missing from the downtown eastside. We are also in contact with family members of some of the women on the list. We have contact with many women who thankfully are not on the list of those missing, but for good crisis work, decent community response and luck. 

We are shocked and dismayed that Robert William Pickton was charged with unlawful forcible confinement and attempted murder in 1997 and despite overwhelming physical evidence the Crown stayed charges for reasons we can only analyze as sexist towards the woman that Mr. Pickton was accused of stabbing. There must be serious attention to the Crown’s decision in 1998 to stay those charges regardless of the outcome of this current investigation.  

It is critical to address why it took so long for police to get to this point in their response to the missing women. Too many women are currently left in highly dangerous and increasingly dangerous situations. The prostitution, poverty and drug use attributed to the missing women has been identified as reasons for the low level of police activity on this case. These reasons cannot be used to abandon women to the violence of men who are johns and pimps.  

On an alarmingly consistent basis, our callers to the rape crisis line relate that their reports to police of sexual assault or beatings are met with disbelief, dismissal and sometimes with threats of arrest of the woman. Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s shelter will continue press for police to provide adequate response to women’s reports of male violence. We know that this is not the only man who can have attacked women in the downtown eastside and we know that other men will continue to attack as long as the police response to any raped or battered woman remains inadequate. 

Vancouver Rape Relief will continue to press the police to take any woman’s report of violence seriously and will not allow sexist or racist judgements about women to determine whether or not police proceed with response. We also expect that the Crown’s consideration of likelihood of conviction when assessing such cases for trial will be free of these biases. 

One of the critical issues at this time is to halt any more discussion about establishing a so called red-light district, or further legalizing the prostitution of women while criminalizing those very women who are prostituted. It is unquestionable that prostitution forces women into vulnerability to violent attack. It is almost a fact that it is the stigma of prostitution that has permitted the disappearances to remain unsolved for so long. Vancouver Rape Relief can foresee the increased jeopardy such a plan creates for women and we encourage the public to not be tricked into abandoning yet more women to exploitation and violence. We do expect that city hall is paying attention to our expert opinion in these matters. 

Vancouver Rape Relief can also foresee that the Liberal government’s proposed cuts to welfare will push more women into prostitution and into danger. We call on the provincial government to reconsider the welfare cuts that will push more women onto the street.


For more information:
Suzanne Jay
Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter
phone: (604) 872-8212
fax: (604) 876-8450.