British Columbia

Violent sexual assault leaves Vancouver senior with life-threatening injuries

Investigators believe the assault may have taken place sometime between Sept. 7 and Sept. 9. The victim was reported missing on Sept. 8 by her care home.

Attack believed to have happened sometime between Sept. 7 and Sept. 9

The Vancouver Police Department is asking anyone who saw an elderly woman in a wheelchair with bruising on her face between Sept. 7 and Sept. 9, to contact police. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Vancouver police say a 76-year-old woman suffered life-threatening injuries as a result of a violent sexual assault earlier this week. 

Staff at the senior's care home called police Thursday, Sept. 9 to report the victim's injuries and medical distress, which sent her to the hospital.

Investigators believe the assault happened sometime between Sept. 7 at 2 p.m. PT and Sept. 9 at 11 a.m. PT. 

Police did not say if it was unusual for the victim to be away from her care home for that amount time. The care home, which police have not named, reported the victim missing on Sept. 8.

Police say details of the assault have been hard to ascertain due to the degree of the victim's injuries.

"This is a very shocking case," said VPD Const. Tania Visintin at a news conference on Saturday. "The victim's injuries are some of the worst we've seen [from a sexual assault]."

Police say the woman, who uses a motorized wheelchair, often visits Cathedral Park near Dunsmuir Street and Richards Street in downtown Vancouver. She may have been in the area before or after the attack, according to investigators.

Facial bruising

Visintin said once the woman returned to her care home, staff noticed she was in medical distress with significant bruising and discolouration to her face. Staff then called the police.

"Because of the extent of her injuries, she's been unable to tell us exactly what happened," said Visintin.

Visintin said it was important for police to make details of the case public in hopes of receiving tips.

Const. Tania Visintin with the Vancouver Police Department shares details of a sexual attack involving a 76-year-old woman in downtown Vancouver sometime between Sept. 7 and 9, 2021. (Martin Diotte/CBC News)

The victim may have taken transit over the time period when the attack occurred and could have been wearing a pink shirt.

Police are asking anyone who may have seen the victim or spoken with her to contact them.

Suspect description

Visintin said police believe the suspect they are looking for is a 35 to 40-year-old white man with a stocky build.

He has light to dark brown shaggy hair with a stubble beard. He has been described as having wide-set eyes and a short neck, and was wearing a black or navy blue jacket.

Gloria Gutman, a professor of gerontology at Simon Fraser University, said attacks involving a vulnerable senior out in the community are rare.

She says it's more common for seniors to face abuse in their care homes or from family members charged with their care.

"It breaks my heart because these are the most vulnerable people," she said.

Gutman said that seniors who are victims of abuse often do not report the crimes due to shame.

Visintin said that the missing persons report is also part of the investigation, but added that the care home has been cooperative and "is not to blame."