Women in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside are warning of an increase in assaults, kidnappings, drug abuse. RS News

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WARNING: This story describes violence against women and girls and may cause distress to those who have experienced it or know someone who has.

Women in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside are warning of rising rates of violence in the neighborhood and are reporting frequent, increasing incidents of kidnapping, forcible confinement, rape and robbery, according to frontline workers.

Mebrat Beyene, executive director of the WISH Drop-In Center Society, said he and other first-hand neighbors are raising alarm about the “increasing violence and immorality.”

“The sex workers tell us it’s worse than what they’ve seen on the street,” he said, speaking at WISH’s offices on Alexander Street.

“And it says a lot about the Downtown Eastside that has suffered from a serial killer who has been working almost with impunity in this area,” he added, referring to Robert Pickton, who is serving life in prison for murdering six women in the area. .

Beyene and others who work on violence prevention say the violent killings, and the suspected deaths of young Indigenous women, have communities at risk.

They say the collapse of support services during the pandemic, combined with rising housing costs, is pushing Canada’s poorest areas to unprecedented levels – with women and girls at risk of violence.

“People will come to places like the Downtown Eastside to play the most violent games, maybe because they know they can get away,” Beyene said.

“It’s incredibly scary.”

‘Violence, in general, has increased dramatically. Attack, more brutal. Sexual assault is even worse. The daily confinement we are told by women is shocking,’ said Angela Marie MacDougall, executive director of the Battered Women’s Support Society. (Justine Boulin/CBC)

WISH, which operates a 23-bed shelter and runs several support programs, is one of several organizations in the area that offer “bad reporting,” allowing sex workers to warn others about their experiences with men.

The results are compiled by the center in a “red light report” that removes the identified data of women and is distributed to marketers by bodies and major organizations. Beyene said the August report painted a grim picture of the dire situation.

“I [report] speaks to the level of violence that continues and is largely unreported or underreported. Of course, these are stories that rarely appear in the media,” said Beyene.

“What is surprising is how many are violent – sometimes involving women who have been drugged, and detained for hours, sometimes for days.”

Women’s Support Services Executive Director Angela Marie MacDougall, who also reviews red light reports, said violence has been on the rise since the start of the pandemic, but peaked in the summer of 2022.

“The assault, it’s more brutal. The sexual assault, it’s more brutal. The detention for days we are told by women is shocking,” he said.

“Women face serious physical harm from these attacks that require the type of treatment that is often not available.”

A notice posted in the Downtown Eastside at the end of August warns women of men offering drinks laced with GHB, an odorless, tasteless sedative. (Justine Boulin/CBC)

MacDougall said many women don’t report their assaults because they fear retaliation, while others don’t feel comfortable talking to the police. Others say they don’t want to re-injure themselves by reporting a crime to a system they feel won’t support them.

Still, the increase was caught in the data provided by the Vancouver Police Department (VPD), which recorded 10 forced arrests and female victims in the Downtown Eastside during the first eight months of 2022, compared to five during the same period last year.

The data shows that there were 49 sexual assaults on women in the Downtown Eastside in the first eight months of 2022, compared to 34 during the first eight months of 2021. The data did not include any reported cases of kidnapping involving women in the neighborhood.

The VPD said it cannot provide reliable data on what percentage of cases involve traffickers because the person’s job is not always disclosed during the investigation.

4 bodies found recently

Another disturbing trend is with more people.

Since May, the bodies of three young women and one Indigenous girl, all with some connection to the Downtown Eastside, have been found in neighborhoods or in unexpected places in Metro Vancouver.

On May 2, the body of 20-year-old Tatyanna Harrison was found in a 40-foot boat on dry land in Richmond. Harrison, who lived on the Downtown Eastside, was not reported until August.

On May 6, the remains of 24-year-old Chelsea Poorman were identified after being found in a Shaughnessy mansion after months of searching by her family.

On May 1, the body of 14-year-old Noelle O’Soup was found in a single-room hotel (SRO) on Heatley Avenue next to the remains of another woman.

And on July 30, the body of 24-year-old Kwemcxenalqs Manuel-Gottfriedson was found blocks away from the same Downtown Eastside SRO.

Police said the cases are not believed to be connected. But MacDougall said the death toll in a short period of time is “outrageous for a number of reasons.”

“We have kidnappers who are already here, who commit sexual violence and … drug-fueled rape and all kinds of exploitation,” he said.

“They are people who live in the neighborhood and people from outside the area. They know that there are vulnerable women who are not protected.”

The names of three young indigenous women whose bodies have been found since May are inscribed on a wall in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. (Justine Boulin//CBC)

Both Beyene and MacDougall point to a series of factors that led to the decline in what was already a struggling region.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of many services in the spring of 2020 saw many sources of support dry up. Rising housing costs, lack of affordable roads and a growing drug problem have left many people desperate.

They say there is no end in sight to violence, although advice on what support is needed has been published for years.

“My heart goes out to all the families, community members and friends who are dealing with this all the time,” said Beyene.

“And I think that’s where the injustice and frustration comes from – that there are more warnings.”

Support is available to anyone who has been attacked. You can access crisis lines and local support services now Canadian government website or i Ending Violence in Canada database. If you are in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911.

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