The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry heard from its first witness Thursday.  Professor John Lowman, a criminologist from Simon Fraser University, was called to provide expert testimony on the subject of prostitution in Vancouver.

He described how city officials, residents, and the courts had driven poverty-stricken, drug dependent, poorly educated Native sex trade workers into unsafe dimly lit commercial areas on the downtown eastside, where the police practiced a policy of “containment” and remained largely indifferent to the women’s plight, even as the women disappeared from the streets.  In stark contrast, he testified that the city enabled and facilitated well-educated, well-off white female sex trade workers to actively ply their trade in much safer conditions, such as in massage parlours, body rub salons, escort services or as call girls.

Prof. Lowman recounted a conversation he had had with a male Vancouver Police officer, who described treating members of the street sex trade in a way that wouldn’t be condoned for any other segment of society.  He confirmed that a recent survey of sex trade workers indicated that they reported that they were almost as likely to be threatened, assaulted or sexually assaulted by police officers as by their clients.  Prof. Lowman recalled that the RCMP, while interested in obtaining “bad date sheets” identifying johns who had reportedly assaulted or abused women that were prepared weekly by two non-profit organisations, the RCMP weren’t prepared to cover the cost of postage stamps to receive them.

Towards the end of his first day on the witness stand, Prof. Lowman briefly lost his composure, overwhelmed by the frustration he had experienced in decades of studying the problems created by the street sex trade, only to have his studies and articles fall on deaf ears.

Prof. Lowman’s testimony is expected to resume on Monday, October 17, 2011 at the Commission’s hearing room; 8th floor, 701 West Georgia Street, Vancouver.