What will it take for women to recognize that globally, as women, we are targeted for destruction? What specific cataclysm in the history of our social subordination will forge in us, as a fundamental element of our identity, an awareness of the fact and the means by which our specific social group is being destroyed? Which outrage against us will so shake the conscience of the world that it will force us to acquire a preparedness for dealing with our own possible demise? — Natalie Nenadic, from “Femicide”
On February 8, 2002, the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre in Vancouver, B.C., issued a press release, published on the Vancouver Rape Relief website, one of the few remaining rape relief centers run by our sister radical feminists/lesbian separatists, which read, in part:
Women are missing from the downtown eastside… Each of those women has children and parents and siblings and friends. … A fellow named Robert Pickton is named as a “person of interest” in this case. … It was noted in the media that [Pickton] was a “person of interest” some time ago. What did the police do to “serve and protect” the women who live and work in this neighborhood? … the numbers of women missing from the dowtown core has increased alarmingly in the past few years. …These attacks are primarily about sexism. It is not men who are disappearing in droves from the streets of downtown.
We want to point out that these women are women. They are women as much as the woman who shops on South Granville; the woman who goes to classes at UBC; the woman who walks the picket line for her union. These women are often identified in the media as Aboriginal prostitutes and drug addicts. They are more vulnerable to attack because they are poor and addicted; and because of racism which undervalues people of Aboriginal descent, but they are attacked mostly because they are women. They are more vulnerable to attack than other women in part because housing, money and other social supports are less and less available to them.
…The police and the government need to take us seriously. One is too many. Fifty is outrageous. We are tired of memorials
Yesterday, women from the same Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre gathered in front of the courthouse where Robert Pickton is being tried for slaughtering the women they had worried about, searched for, and on behalf of whom they had organized rallies and actions.
The women sang, they drummed, they performed a Lillooet women’s warrior song. “To me it means strength,” said C.J. Julian (above). We are here to represent [the missing women]. It is an honoring song.”
Robert Pickton, the man charged so far with murdering 26 women, whom I blogged about last week, is on trial this week for the murder of six of the women. These are the women whose lives he confessed to having taken:
Sereena Abotsway was born with fetal alcohol syndrome in a bad area of town. Her parents died when she was young, her father from his drug habit. Foster parents cared for her from from the time she was four until she was 17, when she was placed in a group home, where she, too, was introduced to drugs. Although she was prostituted, she was an activist for the women she worked with, and when women she knew began disappearing from the streets of Vancouver in the ’80s and ’90s, she attended rallies, demanding action. She herself disappeared in August 2001 at the age of 29, and her remains were later dug up and identified on the Pickton farm.
Taken from a First Nations reserve in Alberta, Mona Wilson lived in a treatment center as a young girl, but was removed when she was found badly beaten in a hallway. She lived with foster families until she was 18. She became addicted to heroin when she was on her own and was prostituted. She disappeared in November 2001 at the age of 26, as she was trying to turn her life around.
Angela left home with her boyfriend when she was 16 years old, fleeing parents struggling with alcoholism and mental illness who had abused her. Her boyfriend, as it turned out, was a drug dealer who provided her with drugs. She was prostituted and violently abused by a series of pimps. She had her own daughter, then disappeared in June 2001.
Brenda Wolfe’s friends say she was never prostituted. Although she had briefly been addicted to drugs, she had turned her life around and before she disappeared, she was working as a waitress and a bouncer in a local eatery. She defended prostituted women when they were attacked or in danger, but became one of Robert Pickton’s alleged victims nevertheless. She disappeared in February 1999.
Georgina was a First Nations woman, one of eight siblings, who spent most of her life in foster care. Although she struggled with drug addiction, she stayed in close touch with a daughter, who lived with her grandmother. She had seven children but had lost custody of them because of her problems with drug addiction and because she had done some time in prison. She disappeared at age 34 in 1999.
Marnie Frey grew up in a Christian family and attended Christian school for a time. At 18 she had a daughter. She encountered people who introduced her to drugs, became addicted and was finally prostituted, but she always stayed in touch with her family, sometimes calling up to eight times a day to check on her little girl. Her final call was made in September 1999. Her remains were among those recovered on Pickton’s farm.
According to the prosecuting attorney in opening statements, shortly after Pickton had been arrested, and while he was in jail, he described to an undercover police officer who was posing as a cellmate how he (Pickton) had killed 49 women on his farm (pictured above). He said he was planning to kill one more woman to “make it an even 50,” but said he’d become “sloppy” about the killings. At one point he tried to cut a deal, asking what it would take to get police to close down the investigation and leave the property, saying police should “get back to him.”
Body parts, including blood and DNA of the dead women, were found throughout Pickton’s farm– in pig pens, stuffed into garbage bags, in his trailer and motorhome, in soil samples excavated during police searches. The severed heads, hands and feet of Andrea Joesbury, Sereena Abotsway and Mona Wilson were found stuffed into five-gallon plastic pails in a chest freezer and in a trash can outside a slaughterhouse on the property. Jawbone fragments and teeth of Marnie Frey and Brenda Wolfe were found, and a bone of Georgina Papin’s hand was discovered among other bones in debris and manure in a pig pen.
In Pickton’s trailer, police found Sereena Abotsway’s asthma inhaler in a bloody bag and a date book which had once belonged to Angela Joesbury. A .22 calibre revolver with a dildo stretched over the gun barrel yielded DNA profiles of Pickton and Mona Wilson, and Brenda Wolfe’s DNA was found on a key to a pair of handcuffs in a duffel bag which also contained guns and leg irons.
Despite the confession, which was recorded and which will be shown to jurors, Pickton’s attorney says he didn’t kill the women and that jurors should consider Pickton’s level of intelligence, and other things.
Women knew, for years, and even decades, that their friends and sisters on the street were disappearing. Repeatedly they asked for help in finding the women and ending the disappearances. Pickton had been arrested once, all the way back in 1997, when a woman who had been at his farm ran bloody and cut to a neighbor’s house. But he was released, never formally charged.
Now he stands trial. What will it take for the world to recognize and acknowledge, what men do to women, the way men slaughter women, after raping them, while raping them, while torturing them. I will be writing about this as the trial continues, for the sake of these women, for the sake of the women who have loved them, searched for them, and cried out on their behalf, and because it would be wrong not to shout from the rooftops what this man said he did to these women. They weren’t “killed.” A man, or men, killed them, brutally, as though they were nothing. If it is ever to stop, we have to cry out, and cry out, and cry out.