Police identifify suspect in violent assault of sex worker

Police say they are encouraging sex workers in the area to remain vigilant as their investigation continues. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

Police say they have identified a suspect in a recent violent assault of a sex worker in the Downtown Eastside.

After midnight on June 10, a man picked up a woman near East Hastings Street and Campbell Avenue before assaulting her with a weapon, according to a news release from the Vancouver Police Department (VPD). Police say he later pushed her out of the car — an older-model, dark-coloured sedan — near Oppenheimer Park, and she's currently recovering from her injuries.

The VPD said Friday that they had located the man the night before and seized his vehicle. Police previously described the suspect as white, 40 to 50 years old, 300 pounds, with a receding hairline. They say he was wearing a T-shirt and sweatpants.

The VPD didn't name the suspect, as charges have not been laid.

Police say the investigation is continuing and are encouraging sex workers in the area to remain vigilant.

Kit Rothschild, the community co-executive director at PACE Society, which supports former and current sex workers, said they were disheartened but not surprised to hear about the assault.

"Certainly, the way that criminalization and stigmatization of sex work really isolates sex workers means that people are really at greater risk for predation," they said Thursday. "And there are a lot of predators in this town."

Rothschild also said more could be done to communicate the warning to women in the area, as they said they only heard about the VPD's report from a CBC News interview request. They noted that the PACE Society will share the warning with community members through word of mouth and text blasts.

More broadly, they said there needs to be more investments into grassroots responses such as "patrols of peers." They also stressed the importance of welfare support to prevent sex workers from having to take extra risks in order to handle the rising costs of living.

"Sex workers are members of our community," Rothschild said. "They do not deserve violence. It's not a joke when sex workers are hurt."