Evil isn’t just in the act, it’s in the reaction too

As the story of the murdered women in Ipswich, England, unfolds, I am reminded of the situation in Vancouver, Canada, where a trial for the murder of six prostitutes is about to begin.

It saddens me that, in both the Ipswich and the Vancouver cases, women disappeared without causing much of a stir simply because they were at bottom of the social ladder. It’s not a very good reflection of society that it takes the death of more than one prostitute to grab our attention.

In Vancouver, a man called Robert Pickton, who used to be a pig farmer in Port Coquitlam, outside Vancouver, has been charged with the murder of six sex-trade workers from Vancouver’s downtown eastside. He has also been charged with 20 further counts of first-degree murder, and may be tried for these at a later date.

BC judge Justice James Williams ruled that the Pickton trial could be divided into two parts because it would make the trial less complicated and there would be less chance of a mistrial. He also said, according to the CBC, the evidence in these six cases – the alleged murders of Sereena Abotsway, Mona Wilson, Andrea Joesbury, Brenda Wolfe, Georgina Papin and Marnie Frey – was “materially different” than the others.

Obviously, with the trial about to start, there are few details in the public sphere.

What is known is that between 40 and 60 women have disappeared from Vancouver’s downtown eastside since the late 1970s. (It was initially thought the number of women missing was closer to 60, but several women on the police-held missing persons’ list have contacted authorities. There could be others who have moved away and simply not told friends and family their whereabouts).

It wasn’t until 1999 that police in Vancouver gave any indication that they suspected a serial killer could be responsible.

Families of the missing women have alleged that Vancouver police ignored evidence that a serial killer was at work. The families have also said police neglected the cases because many of the women were prostitutes and drug addicts.

Police in Ipswich, England, have been much quicker to declare that a serial killer could be at work. I think the reason for this is because the murders in Ipswich have happened in quick succession. The three Ipswich women who have died, and the other two who seem to be missing, disappeared in the past two months, whereas the Vancouver sex-trade workers disappeared, one by one, over decades.

Still, I can’t help but think that, in both cases, the deaths of these women were treated differently than the deaths of people in other social groups.

If between 40 and 60 women went missing from an affluent area in Vancouver, then police would have undoubtedly acted much more quickly.

And if the women in Ipswich were professionals, rather than prostitutes, their murders would have been a much bigger deal, both in the media, and to police. In Ipswich, it took two deaths – and a third cemented it – before people started to make a fuss.

Of course, one must consider that prostitutes live a much more dangerous life than the average woman. They are often drug addicts, and are often cut off from family support. And, obviously, they place themselves in danger when they walk the streets at night, meeting with strangers.

Still, these are desperate women. They’re on the streets not because they want to be there, but because their lives have been taken on a dangerous course for one reason or another, and they feel like they have no choice. They need food to eat and to sustain their addictions. They see no other way.

And in Ipswich and Vancouver, someone has, or several persons have, done unspeakably evil things to these women. By not thinking of these women’s lives as equal to the lives of those people at the top of the social ladder, we have betrayed them. It is a situation that we, as a society, should not, cannot, tolerate ever again.


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