Vancouver sex workers on edge after recent violence at DTES

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Advocates say the rising cost of rent continues to drive sex workers into more dangerous street work.

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Sex workers in the Downtown Eastside are on high alert after violent events rocked the neighborhood in recent weeks, including the discovery of the remains of missing women and several unprovoked assaults.

While a violent offender reporting system aims to prevent street sex workers from being targeted, advocates say the rising cost of rent inside continues to push them into more dangerous situations.

“People put their lives in their hands every time they go to work,” said Mebrat Beyene, executive director of WISH Drop-in Center Society, an organization that supports sex workers in the neighborhood.

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Some sex workers living in the tent city of East Hastings Street have been forced to dismantle their makeshift homes this week with no affordable housing options to turn to.

In an effort to prevent workers who identify as women from having to trade dangerous or cheap sex for a place to stay, WISH operates a 23-bed emergency shelter. It has remained at full capacity since its opening in the fall of 2020.

The nonprofit also released its “wrong date” report on Aug. 4, detailing several allegations of assault on workers with vague descriptions of the customers charged, the vehicle the suspect was driving and where the incident would have occurred.

“We redact a lot of what the sex worker shares because often it is information that could compromise her safety. She fears the client will retaliate,” Beyene said.

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Mebrat Beyene, executive director of WISH, says people put their lives in their own hands every time they go to work. Photo by Francis Georgian /PNG

What is not said in the memos, which are distributed by email throughout the Lower Mainland, often include acts of kidnapping, forcible confinement and rape.

“Many workers are too traumatized to report the event to us, let alone the police. We work with them to make the report detailed enough for the police investigation to follow without an actual police report.

Vancouver police say the challenge of bringing criminal charges after a report has been made is a lack of evidence, the sergeant said. Steve Addison.

“Sometimes the evidence is readily available, and other times not. Where evidence leads to reasonable grounds that a criminal offense has been committed, we have the legal power to arrest a person suspected of having committed an offence.

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Street sex workers have been known to broadcast warnings about clients most often with other people at work.

A sex worker told Postmedia that when her single-room hotel imposed restrictions on guests amid the COVID-19 pandemic, she had to stand on Hastings and Cordova streets to earn enough money to pay. the monthly rent of $375.

Potential customers would drive up to the 31-year-old.

“I would have less than two minutes to decide, ‘Is this guy a bad guy or does he look okay?’ A quick scan of their vehicle, including a spot check for weapons, helped her come to a decision.

However, rejecting a man’s awards proved just as dangerous for the worker, who filed a bad dating report with WISH in 2020 after the man physically assaulted her.

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“I still have kidney damage because he beat me,” she said.

In addition to being more dangerous, working outside pays less, according to the sex worker.

“Without a seat inside, you can only earn a maximum of $100 for your services. If you’re able to bring customers inside, you can earn up to $500.

The danger faced by women and sex workers in precarious housing in the Downtown Eastside is nothing new, Beyene said.

This year, violent crime rates in the neighborhood — where serial killer Robert Pickton abducted some of his victims from 1991 — are more than double those in the rest of Vancouver, according to police data.

On the morning of July 25, a woman sitting on the sidewalk suffered severe burns after being doused with flammable liquid and set on fire by an unknown person on Dunlevy Avenue near Powell Street. Police said the alleged attacker, described as a white male in his 30s, was targeting “a vulnerable member” of the community.

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Five days later, the body of Kwem Manuel-Gottfriedson, 25, was discovered in a rooming house near East Hastings Street and Hawks Avenue. She had been reported missing three days earlier.

The remains of two other women, Noelle O-Soup, 14, and an unidentified woman in her 30s, were discovered a block away in May.

Although the women’s cause of death is still under investigation by the BC Coroner’s Service, sex workers in the community remain nervous, Beyene said.

“We were never far from those feelings that what happened next happened again. It’s still present, it’s just that the public has forgotten.

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