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Coolsaet walking her dogs near Point Grey Road

Sexual assault fears rise after Vancouver attack

Every evening between 10 p.m. and midnight, 23-year-old Kaleigh Coolsaet takes her two pugs for a walk near Kitsilano Beach….

By Jenna Owsianik , in City , on October 29, 2009 Tags: , , , ,

Coolsaet walking her dogs near Point Grey Road
Coolsaet walking her dogs near Point Grey Road

Every evening between 10 p.m. and midnight, 23-year-old Kaleigh Coolsaet takes her two pugs for a walk near Kitsilano Beach. Despite safety concerns she has to go out alone during night-time hours because she lives alone.

Coolsaet’s apartment is near the site of a violent sexual assault that took place at Hastings Mill Park near Point Grey Road on Oct.18.

Vancouver police are still searching for the individual who attacked and sexually assaulted a 24-year-old woman. A composite sketch of a “person of interest” has been released and police are appealing to the public for any information that may help solve the crime. Police are also looking into the possibility that a known sex offender at large may be linked to the attack.

“It’s kind of unnerving because that person is still around,” said Coolsaet.

Coolsaet is one of a number of women and women’s groups concerned about safety in the area – particularly with daylight savings time on Nov. 1.

The murder of Wendy Ladner-Beaudry in Pacific Spirit Park this past April also remains unsolved. Her body was found in the early afternoon by a hiker on a trail close to Camosun Street and West 41st Avenue.

Vancouver group decries inaction

Louisa Russell, of Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter, said all women have a heightened sense of fear because of these attacks. She said that instead of telling women how to protect themselves police need to start making a more serious effort in policing sexist violence.

“I use the analogy of drunk driving,” she said, adding that focused preventative measures and harsher sanctions helped to keep intoxicated drivers off the road. These kinds of measures need to be applied to ensuring women’s safety from violent assaults, she said.

“The myth is that it’s safe. If something happens to you it’s [considered] a ‘freak thing,’” said Anoushka Ratnarajah of the University of British Columbia’s Womyn’s Centre. “It places the responsibility of safety on women,” added Ratnarajah. She said survivors of sexual assaults are often blamed for not being cautious enough and “this is not giving accountability to the wider problems.”

Hastings Mill Park is the site of a violent sexual assault that took place on Oct. 18
Hastings Mill Park is the site of a violent sexual assault that took place on Oct. 18

According to the Vancouver police 60 sexual offences were reported in the west side for the first eight months of the year.  Conversely, Since Jan. 1 there were six sexual assaults on the University of British Columbia grounds, said RCMP  Sgt. Rob Vermeulen.

Student safety a concern

Lau Mehes, a coordinator for the University of British Columbia’s V-Day campaign which is dedicated to ending violence against women and girls, said the university needs to be more involved in these issues, adding that there has been no official notification of the possibility of a violent predator in the area.

“I had to find out through outside channels,” said Mehes. She added that the university should notify women when attacks take place in nearby neighbourhoods because many students live in Point Grey and Kitsilano.

Ratnarajah said that campus safety measures aren’t adequate in general. She said the emergency blue lights are too far apart and are not placed in every building. If someone is being followed there is not enough time to search for a light and press an alert button, or to wait until campus security arrives.

“It’s astounding the amount of things a woman does in her everyday life to increase her safety,” said Russell. Women already know not to walk alone at night, to carry a cell phone, to jog in groups and to tell their friends where they are. Daylight does not shield an assault either, as Ladner-Beaudry was killed during the day.

A 2004 study disclosed by Juristat, the justice statistics division of Statistics Canada, estimates only 12% of sexual assaults were reported to the police. Many advocates committed to ending violence against women believe such crimes are largely underreported.

Comments


  • An important issue, Jenna. Thank you for writing about this.

    I still get angry when I remember a flippant remark made by one of my male peers at York U.

    Two men had managed to get past security in one of the undergrad residences. They entered the rooms of two female students and assaulted them. Imagine the terror of being attacked in a place where you feel safe–which should be everywhere–and then finding judgment instead of support? It’s shameful.

    My peer had said the students should have locked their doors, implying that women forfeit the right to their own bodies when they “fail to protect themselves.” I wonder if he ever forgets to lock his doors, and how he would feel if someone assaulted him and then blamed him for it.

    I used to answer phones the phones for a sexual assault support line. Comments like his can hurt survivors profoundly.

    All people, not just women’s groups, need to talk about this.

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