(This column was published in the North Shore News on May 19, 1999)


Hysteria won’t help missing women

By Leo Knight

MUCH has been made in the past few weeks of the apparent disappearance of 21 women from the Downtown Eastside.  


Peter Warren, the bombastic CKNW talk show host, did a 10-segment analysis of the situation over the last two weeks.  


A memorial march was held last week at Crab Park on the waterfront. A bit premature perhaps, inasmuch as no one really knows if they are in fact dead. The Vancouver police have been taking it on the chin from those who claim they don't care about the women because they are prostitutes and drug addicts.  


Some are claiming there is a serial killer at work and trying to whip up hysteria among the masses.  


Is it possible a latter day Jack the Ripper is at work on our meanest streets? Certainly, it is possible. Whether it is likely is another question altogether.  


The problem is there is no real evidence to suggest the women have been killed. There are no bodies.  


Of the cases in question, the oldest dates back to 1988 and involves a woman from White Rock. The rest were last seen between 1995 and this year.  


Because of the lifestyle these women led, it's very difficult for the police to determine what has happened. They are all drug addicts who sell their bodies for money to feed their habits. They live in rooming houses, flea-bag hotels or, in some cases, nowhere at all.  


Very often it is weeks or months before the police are advised they haven't been seen for a while. From a police perspective, where do you start to investigate?  


Vancouver police have a three-man Missing Person investigative section along with a civilian assistant. To get an idea of how busy they are, let's look at the numbers for 1997, the last year the stats are readily available.  


In 1997, the Vancouver Police Department investigated 1,940 missing juveniles and 975 reported missing adults. To date only four cases remain unresolved. Of the four, three are missing prostitutes.  


In 1998 there is only one outstanding case and that is an adult male. There are three new missing prostitute cases in 1999.  


Now most of these cases involve runaway kids or adults who have taken off after a family fight. Most resolve themselves in a short period of time.  


The police say they can usually tell if a reported missing person will turn up because of the circumstances leading up to the disappearance. These cases don't usually get much attention from the police. Accordingly, the reports of the missing prostitutes routinely get more attention than the average missing person because of the higher likelihood of foul play.  


To say the police care less for these women than if there were 20 missing women from Point Grey is simply untrue.  


Given the fact these women are addicts and living in the most degrading of circumstances, there is no well-defined starting point for the police to begin their investigation. Without evidence, they rely on talking to other street people for information, not the most reliable of information sources at the best of times.  


This would seem to be the crux of the problem. All the police have to go on is the information from the families indicating they haven't heard from the women for a period of time.  


There's no question there are predators on the streets. The missing women placed themselves in positions where they are the most vulnerable.  


There's no doubt we should care about what may have happened to the women. There's no question the police should be committing their resources to resolving these cases.  


But whipping up public hysteria is not the answer.  






Primetimecrime current headlines               Columns 1999