Tuesday, December 11, 2007

We all helped Pickton kill those women

Robert Pickton had it right. If you're going to kill somebody, pick someone whose death won't much matter, at least to the people who do.
Like addicted women, working in the low end of the sex trade. When they disappear, hardly anyone notices, outside of a few family members.
The missing women's case showed that Vancouver police didn't even care much as they heard the stories - more and more - of women who just vanished. It just didn't rate as serious.
That's largely our fault. When the street sex trade gets too visible, or moves to close to our neighbourhoods or places we go, we're unhappy.
Understandably. The trade brings drugs and cars and noisy fights. Who wants to explain what's happening down the block to a curious six-year-old?
But for at least two decades, our unhappiness has never led us actually to demand a change in the way the trade works. We just want the police to push the street sex trade somewhere else.
After that has happened a half-dozen times, the women end up in the worst possible places, for them. In Vancouver, the Downtown Eastside, a place almost extraterrestrial in its weirdness. In Victoria, a light industrial area that's largely deserted at night. Around the province, the sex trade ends up where there's not much help for the women if something goes wrong.
So they get beat up, or raped - or just vanish, like they were never there. We don't care about that, once they're out of sight. Not enough to do anything, anyway.
And Robert Pickton - and too many others - figure that out. We don't expect the sex trade to stop, really. In fact, in Canada, we've made it legal.
But in one of these cruel and ridiculous perversions, we've fixed the rules so that people who try and work in the legal business face massive risks. Prostitution is legal. But talking to clients about what the arrangement isn't. Living off the avails - or providing a safe workplace, to look at it another way - is also illegal.
Most people selling sex find ways around the problems, sort of. Escort agencies and massage parlours provide a place to work. Independents operate from apartments.
But at any time, about 10 per cent to 20 per cent of the business is done on the street. The women are generally addicted and struggling to live. The work is low-paying and very risky.
And sometimes, deadly. And the risk is largely because of the law, which forces them to work in the most dangerous places.
A lot of people have professed to be troubled by the Pickton trial. Newspapers have nervously warned that their coverage might be upsetting.
But not all that upsetting. Not so upsetting that we would actually change anything so that more women don't die.
The reality is that nothing is different today. The work is as dangerous. Another Robert Pickton could be out there, probably is out there.
It's a cliché to point out how much more we cared about the missing women when they were dead than when they're alive.
But it's also truly telling. The Pickton trial cost about $45 million. The investigation into the crimes - including the huge effort at the farm - cost about $70 million. The total is $115 million and rising.
Imagine what could have been done for the 500 street level prostitutes across B.C. - that's a guess - with that money. That's $115 million that could have been spent on addiction services or housing or support - or the early intervention that made have a difference in the lives of the people who ended up on the street.
Yet we can't even be bothered to change the laws so the worst dangers of the sex trade are reduced.
Robert Pickton murdered the six women. His sentence will likely keep him off the streets.
But we helped him kill them. And we've done nothing to change the grim reality that more women will die in the same way.
Footnote: The debate has begun on whether the Crown should press ahead and try Pickton on the other 20 murder charges he faces. There seems little point. The families will get few answers; Pickton, 58, is unlikely ever to be released from custody; and the $30 million could be better spent on the living.


KevinG said...

In the time it took me to read your post 30 people in Sub-Sahara Africa died of aids ( I'm a slow reader ). Did my inaction help kill them? How about the Darfur refugees; did I help rape them?

I might generally support some of the same programs ( like addiction services or perhaps the legalization or decriminalization of prostitution ) for vulnerable people that you might support but the notion that we are somehow complicit is absurd.

For one thing it assumes that there is an agreed course of action which can make these people safe. One could argue that their safety could be guaranteed through long term institutionalization -- something that would be effective but that I think neither of us could support.

Pickton killed those women. My contribution to their deaths is indistinguishably close to zero. In fact, if I was to assign varying levels of blame I'd place the victims and their families well ahead of some generalized blame assigned to Joe Citizen.

Anonymous said...

Highway of Tears

It would seem, to a casual observer like me, that the young native women who have disappeared along Highway 16, between Prince Rupert and Prince George, have fallen in to the same black hole that Pickton's victims did: Nobody cares and their fates are ignored.

"If you're going to kill somebody, pick someone whose death won't much matter, at least to the people who do."

Anonymous said...

WE lived on Alexander street in the Four Sister's Co-Op for a couple of years. We saw lots of working women in the area. I recall calling the cops to get down about two blocks early one morning as a guy was beating on a woman and nobody was about to do anything. The NCO I talked to really din't want to bother but I mentioned Harry Rankins office was just across the street and if that didn't work, next call would be to the mayor/ They took 15 minutes or so to go drag the guy away. Those wmoem might not be our freinds but lots of men use their services . beat them up or worse. I recall a cop getting in trouble for harrassing those women. So, you are right Paul, we all look the other way and they started to disappear.Sories of the pig farm were doing the rounds a long time before the police started looking. Good enough to screw, but not good enough for folks to attempt to help them. They have familes, drug and other problems but a society is judged on the treratment of the poor, the weak and the confused. We don't stand very tall on this issue.

Anonymous said...

This is nuts killing -people its not worth it your going to get caught eventually wether its a not so important perso or not.