A sex worker testified at the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry on Monday that she tried three times to get Vancouver police to investigate her complaint of violent rape by the man she now believes was serial killer Robert Pickton.
Susan Davis, 43, said the fact that the VPD failed to follow up on her report of a sexual assault at knifepoint was a “major life-altering event” that forever undermined her trust in police.
“It haunted me,” said Davis. “I grew up in an upper middle-class home and I believed I’d get equal treatment from the police and I didn’t.”
Even though Davis now lectures at major universities, speaks to classes of new VPD recruits and sits on police advisory committees, she said “sex workers still don’t trust police, because of incidents like this.”
Davis, who has been a sex worker for 25 years, including three years in the Downtown Eastside, (DTES) said it was a snowy winter night in January, 1991, when she took a “date” out of financial desperation and drug addiction.
“He had wispy hair, a scruffy, dirty beard, a station wagon with the side all crushed in, all full of garbage and he just stank,” testified Davis.
The man took her to a parking-lot off Quebec Street, punched her in the face, pulled a knife “and raped me on the front seat, at knifepoint,” said Davis.
Then he took Davis back to her corner, but she took down the licence-plate number before he drove away.
Traumatized, she called the VPD non-emergency line and they told her to call 911. She waited, shivering in the cold for an hour, then gave up. She made two more appointments with the VPD, but no one ever took a statement from her.
Davis admitted that she has no proof the man who raped her was Pickton, who is now serving a life sentence for the murder of six women, although he boasted in jail to an undercover officer of killing 49 women in total.
She agreed with lawyer Cameron Ward, acting for the families of 18 murdered women, that had the VPD followed up on her report in the early 1990s, Pickton would have been on police radar sooner than his next police-involved violent assault of a sex worker in 1997.
The Inquiry is examining why it took police so long to catch Pickton between 1997, when he was charged with assaulting a DTES sex worker on his Port Coquitlam farm, and 2002, when he was finally arrested.
Davis said she is “fully empowered” as someone who sells sex from her own apartment, but is working to improve other sex workers’ safety and health.
Davis praised the more recent efforts of the VPD to liaise with, and protect, DTES women, particularly through the VPD sex-worker liaison Const. Linda Malcolm.
Davis said she has experienced no violence for seven years, and favours indoor sex prostitution where women control clients and work conditions.
She said police have progressed a great deal from the days when “vice officers would take Polaroids of us and [note] any distinguishing marks. They told us it was so they could identify our bodies when we were found dead.”
Davis agreed that although few sex workers now face Criminal Code charges, “street-level sex workers still have lots to fear from the police.”
There are also very few resources for women trying to exit sex work, she said, including inadequate detox and treatment and no job retraining.
Commissioner Wally Oppal, who has had his mandate extended until next June, thanked Davis for her “articulate and very helpful” evidence.
The inquiry will hear Tuesday from Elaine Allan, a former employee at the WISH women’s drop-in.
Before VPD Insp. Doug LePard’s testimony, the inquiry will hear motions from lawyer Jason Gratl to protect vulnerable witnesses and a motion from Ward for a week’s adjournment to process complex police evidence first.