British Columbia

UBC 'Take Back the Night' march draws hundreds

More than 200 people marched in a Take Back the Night rally at UBC Wednesday night in a show of solidarity following six recent sexual assaults on the Vancouver campus.

6 attacks on women reported on campus in recent months

More than 200 people marched in a Take Back the Night rally on UBC Vancouver campus on Wednesday in a show of solidarity following a string of six sexual assaults. (CBC)

More than 200 people marched in a Take Back the Night rally at UBC Wednesday night in a show of solidarity following six recent sexual assaults on the Vancouver campus.

Some participants told CBC News that they feel the university's response has simply been to tell women not to walk alone at night, rather than focusing on the "culture of rape" they say is prevalent on campus.

"We're here because we are drowning in a culture of rape. A culture that ignores rape, condones rape, and therefore normalizes rape," said Kiera Smith with Vancouver Rape Relief, an organization that provides counselling and services to victims of sexual assault and sexual abuse.

The march began shortly after 5 p.m. PT at the Museum of Anthropology and made its way through UBC's sprawling campus, past student residences and towards the Sauder School of Business, which was mired in controversy in September following frosh week chants that seemed to condone sex with underage partners.

Some students said that the march is a good start, but that it is only one small part of a larger conversation about sexual assault.

"These discussions need to be happening in the classroom as well, and it's just simply not happening," said Aleyah Williams, a UBC student.

"And we're not talking about it with our friends because it hasn't been made cool to talk about rape and why it's an issue."

'Sense of anxiety' on campus, president says

Earlier today, University of British Columbia President Stephen Toope spoke about the school's response to the recent spate of sex attacks on campus.

"I know that the news from yesterday will have increased a sense of anxiety in our wider community," said Toope. "I want to reassure all of our community that we will do all in our power to increase a sense of security on the campus."

Toope said the isolated location of the campus makes it unique, but it is one of the safest in North America. UBC is located at the western end of Vancouver's Point Grey peninsula and separated from the rest of the city by a large forested park.

"We are employing additional resources to ensure that safety during the night is enhanced. The entire community is rallying together to make that happen."

He said there has never been more police on campus than now, and a campus security group is looking to enhance safety. The university recently spent several million dollars upgrading outdoor lighting on the large campus, but Toope said any decision to install more security cameras would require more debate.

"On the questions of cameras I will only say that that is going to be a longer-term discussion. Obviously we can't deploy cameras immediately across the campus. It is also a question that I think the campus will want to talk about carefully."

The university's Alma Mater society is stepping up its SafeWalk program to help escort students walking alone on campus at night.

Matthew Duguay, who has been driving students home at night as part of the program, said Tuesday that SafeWalk has been getting 50 to 60 calls a night.

Police believe single attacker responsible

RCMP Sgt. Peter Thiessen said the six attacks date back to as early as April, with further incidents in May, September and three in October. All the women were assaulted while walking on the campus late in the evening or in the early morning.

Thiessen said investigators suspect one person is behind all six attack  and they're using crime analysis tools to map the locations of the assaults and to help identify a suspect.

Police describe the attacker as:

  • A Caucasian male.
  • Olive or tanned skin tone.
  • In his mid-20s to early 30s.
  • Dark hair.
  • A thin build.
  • About six feet tall.

Simon Fraser University criminologist Martin Andresen suspects the perpetrator is a former or current student who knows the campus well.

Because there were two attacks in the spring and four in the fall, Andresen says, that could point to an escalation in violence.           

With files from the CBC's Richard Zussman and Emily Elias


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