A total of six sexual assaults that have taken place on the University of British Columbia campus over the past several months appear to be connected, police say.
Lower Mainland District RCMP spokesman Sgt. Peter Thiessen announced the number of assaults under investigation, which is twice the number reported in the past few weeks.
"[They] appear to be related and are likely to have been committed by the same suspect," Thiessen said at a Tuesday press conference alongside UBC officials.
The most recent incident, reported on Sunday, Oct. 27, involved a young woman walking home from Gage Hall on Student Union Boulevard shortly before 1:30 a.m. PT. She noticed a shadow behind her and was grabbed from behind. When she flailed her arms, the suspect ran off, Thiessen said.
The other five reported incidents of females being sexually assaulted this year occurred on April 19, May 19, Sept. 28, Oct. 13 and Oct. 19.
"We want to assure the public that the RCMP, along with UBC security and management, are working diligently to identify and apprehend the suspect who is targeting lone females around the UBC Vancouver campus. We are using every means and avenue available, including additional resources to patrol the UBC grounds," said Thiessen.
Police dogs, criminal and geographic profilers, and operational psychologists have all been engaged, he added.
This is a stressful time for many people on our campus and in this area of the city. This latest news will add to the anxiety. That fear is understandable, but it’s also critical to act and act decisively.— Louise Cowin, VP of students, UBC
Louise Cowin, UBC's vice-president of students, said the university is moving quickly to respond to mounting safety concerns at the remote campus on Vancouver's west side.
"This is a stressful time for many people on our campus and in this area of the city. This latest news will add to the anxiety. That fear is understandable, but it’s also critical to act and act decisively," said Cowin.
"I’m actively working with campus leaders — staff, students and faculty — to ramp up campus security, increase campus support for our campus community, and encourage people to come together and look out for one another. Safety for the Vancouver campus is now our No. 1 priority and we are mobilizing all necessary resources."
Among the measures Cowin introduced Tuesday:
- Additional security for student residences, with security guards on all sites after dark.
- Res Walk, a volunteer-based service to escort students within residential compounds, between commons blocks and individual residence buildings, and between the residential hub and the campus shuttle service.
- Increasing student access to UBC counselling services, ensuring priority access for affected students, providing outreach to student residences and making a trained UBC counsellor available to the Alma Mater Society’s sexual assault support centre.
"While we are taking immediate action on practical safety fixes," said Cowin, "we will also be taking a comprehensive look at campus safety, including the possible use of closed-circuit security cameras. Campus community consultation will be essential before any decision is made on this front."
Thiessen asked that anybody with information about the suspect, or anything related to the recent spate of sexual assaults, to call the B.C. RCMP major crimes tip line at 778-250-5291 or 1-877-543-4822.
So far there have been 30 to 40 tips received from the public, while the RCMP continue to work with victims and witnesses on a composite sketch of the suspect.