Multiple women allege continuous harassment by Vancouver Facebook group moderator
Numerous women allege they were verbally abused after turning Josh Liu down for dates
A man who ran a popular Vancouver housing rentals group on Facebook is being accused by numerous women who say he targeted them for dates online and when they rejected him, they were bombarded with racist, misogynistic and abusive messages.
Some of the women were new to the city and looking for a place to live when they encountered Josh Liu on Vancouver Rentals and Roommates. The private group has more than 55,000 members who frequently share new rental listings in the Lower Mainland.
CBC News spoke to women who either met Liu through the Facebook group or on dating apps. They say Liu messaged them to ask them on dates and when they turned him down, he sent them demeaning and profanity-laced messages.
Eleven women contacted CBC News and provided screenshots of their conversations with Liu either on Facebook or on dating apps. One woman provided audio messages, and others provided information through interviews in their efforts to back up their claims.
Some of them, like Naomi Kim, were new to Vancouver. She said her experience with Liu made her fear for her safety.
Kim, 34, found the Facebook group in early January. She had recently moved to Vancouver from South Korea and was looking for an affordable apartment. Liu was the only moderator in the group capable of approving new members, one of the other moderators told CBC News.
Liu, who is not facing any criminal charges, messaged Kim soon after she submitted her request to join the group.
"What brings a pretty girl like you here to us from Korea?"
In screenshots of the conversation reviewed by CBC News, Liu asks if she is free to meet up.
Kim declined and apologized, telling Liu, "I am single but I like someone at the moment." His language then became abusive. When she publicly posted some of what he said to her on Facebook, he began to bombard her and a friend with racist and misogynistic messages, using his own account and one believed to be a fake.
"Sup, kimchi c--t?"
"We don't need c--ts like you immigrating over here."
"I believe you may now f--k off. Loser."
The women who contacted CBC News say Facebook was not the only platform Liu used to harass women. They provided CBC News with dozens of screenshots and audio from conversations through text messages and dating apps that contain abusive, sexist, misogynistic and threatening language.
Liu is also accused of verbally abusive behaviour in the Lower Mainland dance community. He has been banned from three Latin dance studios in Vancouver, CBC News confirmed with their owners.
Allegations about his behaviour date back eight years.
Three women, including Kim, have recently reported him to the Vancouver Police Department. Based on the file number provided to CBC News by the women, VPD confirmed it is investigating. No charges have been laid.
CBC News attempted to contact Liu numerous times to give him an opportunity to respond to the allegations.
CBC News called four phone numbers provided by women in the messages they exchanged with Liu. Calls were repeatedly declined. A man answered the phone once, but did not identify himself and hung up after saying hello.
Messages to Liu's private Instagram and Twitter accounts went unanswered.
CBC News detailed the allegations against Liu in several text messages. The only response received asked that CBC News "cease all contact with this number effective immediately."
Several hours later, a Vancouver police officer called this reporter to say Josh Liu claimed he was being harassed by CBC News. The CBC has not contacted him since.
Kim said her experience with Liu through the Facebook housing group left her scared to leave her home.
She worried that as a newcomer, her concerns wouldn't be taken seriously and there was little she could do to keep herself safe from someone she was afraid of.
'I felt powerless'
Olivia Bult, 24, felt sick when she came across Kim's Facebook post about her experience with Liu.
Bult was 16 when she attended Latin dance classes at Dancey Ballroom in downtown Vancouver. Liu was in some of those classes and started messaging her on Facebook in 2012.
It started out tame and quickly escalated, she said.
"Teasing older men with your sexy little skirts is unacceptable," he said in one message from Jan. 10, 2012.
CBC News reviewed screenshots of the conversation.
"Want company? I'm a good cuddler, so I've been told. Oh right, I keep forgetting how old you are … How about making out?"
Bult was uncomfortable. She responded with short, terse messages, saying she was "not a fan" of cuddling.
Liu asked if touching would make her feel claustrophobic.
"I'm ruling out sex because that would be even more claustrophic than cuddling," he wrote.
"That's exclusive information," she replied.
Bult felt as though Liu was testing her boundaries, trying to see how she would react. She tried to de-escalate the conversation with evasive replies.
"It made me feel gross. I was really upset," she said.
He became more aggressive when she stopped replying after a few days. In a lengthy message viewed by CBC News, he called her an "ignorant little girl" and a "snobby bitch" among other obscenities.
Bult said her experience with Liu was one of the reasons she stopped dancing. She didn't feel safe returning to the studio.
Bult's father, who introduced her to dance classes, said she told him about the "weird interactions" with a man at the time.
"In hindsight, I wish I'd been a little more sensitive," Timothy Bult said.
"I don't know if she wanted or needed anything more from me at the time. But I support her."
Bult said she didn't hear from Liu again until 2018, when he messaged her a link on Facebook. She replied, asking him what he wanted.
In another screenshot reviewed by CBC News, he called her a "stupid white c--nt."
Bult looked back on the messages he sent her years earlier and felt disgusted by the way he treated her.
"I didn't ever forget his name," she said.
"I felt a little strange reading my own messages thinking how did I let this go on for so long?"
In January 2019, Bult said she reported the messages to the VPD non-emergency line. She said a police officer told her no crime was committed because she didn't tell Liu to stop.
"I felt powerless because what they were basically telling me was like, 'Yeah what he did was bad, but he wasn't being violent with you. You're not in danger. There is nothing we can really do,'" Bult said.
Eric Gottardi, a criminal lawyer and partner at Vancouver firm Peck and Company, said Canada's criminal code dictates a person needs to know they are harassing someone for potential charges to be laid.
However, the victim does not necessarily have to explicitly tell that person they are harassing them, he said. If the alleged harasser is behaving in a way that could be considered "reckless," they could still be charged with criminal harassment.
"Aggressive sexual messages from someone in a repeated way could, I would think, really easily satisfy that standard, especially if there's an age disparity or the person is underage," Gottardi said.
Vancouver police could not find a record of Bult's first complaint. They said take they allegations of harassment seriously and anyone being harassed should call 911.
Encouraged by Kim sharing her story publicly, Bult recently reported her experience with Liu to police a second time.
'How do you stop it?'
Jennifer Dancey spoke with Bult to offer her support after seeing Liu's name resurface online.
Dancey banned him from her Vancouver dance studio a few years ago after receiving complaints from numerous women.
The director of D2 Dance Studio first met Liu a couple of years after she opened her former studio, Dancey Ballroom, in 2011. She said she witnessed behaviour from Liu over several years that created an atmosphere in the dance community that made women feel unsafe.
Liu would hang around long after class, singling out specific women and gathering phone numbers, she said. She received complaints about his behaviour, both online and in the studio.
Dancey said she witnessed a particularly nasty exchange between him and several women on Facebook, a conversation that CBC News has not seen.
"He just started becoming extremely verbally abusive towards all of the people that were commenting and just making horrible comments, and I was absolutely shocked," Dancey said.
Dancey believes this behaviour persisted over the years because women feared speaking out.
"The police or lawyers will tell you it's not illegal, but the damage that it does emotionally to women, it's devastating. And how do you stop it?" Dancey said.
"It's not just physical harm that we should be prosecuting people for, it's emotional damage, it's harassment of any kind that makes people feel afraid. I think that's the only way that it's going to change."
Josh Liu banned from Facebook
Several women say they reported Liu to Facebook, but his account remained active until early February.
After CBC News requested comment from Facebook, a spokesperson confirmed the accounts of "several members" of the Vancouver Rentals and Roomates group were disabled for violating community standards.
Liu's main account, as well as an account presumed to be a fake account of his, no longer exist and he is no longer a moderator of the Facebook rentals group.
Kim says online sexual harassment is commonplace for women. Newcomers to Vancouver who might not know their rights are particularly vulnerable, she added.
She doesn't believe the situation will improve until social media organizations and law enforcement prioritize harassment as a crime worthy of prosecution.
She is speaking out because she feels not enough is being done to protect women from rampant online harassment.
"I'm not going to just sit and watch what he does to other women," Kim said.
"I like this city ... and I just really hope women feel safe here."