University of British Columbia (UBC) students are back in class today, but some are returning with new fears about their safety on campus.
Students are being asked to keep their doors locked while officials search for a suspect in the sexual assault of a woman Friday night in UBC’s South Campus residential neighbourhood.
A 20-year-old female was walking alone when she was grabbed from behind by a man who emerged from the woods. The suspect shoved the woman to the ground and began rubbing against her back. The woman suffered minor bruising, but was able to fight off the suspect, who then fled the scene.
Authorities believe the suspect’s description matches that of a voyeur seen recently in women’s residences on campus. Five times since March 23, a male has been reported lurking in shower and residential rooms in Vanier Place and Totem Park, generally home to first-year students. In all five incidents, the man fled when he was seen and no sexual offence occurred.
Sources tell Global News the person of interest is not a UBC student, but someone they describe as a known “sexual predator.” No one is in custody at the moment.
They don’t believe the suspect is the same person responsible for six sex assaults in 2013. No arrests were made in those cases, but the UBC president at the time, Stephen Toope, promised to take action.
Following the 2013 attacks, a university report recommended security cameras be installed on campus, but there are still none outside the residences.
WATCH: Global BC‘s Tanya Beja explains what we know about the suspect and why some accuse UBC of being slow to act.
The university is now being criticized for not acting quickly after reports of a voyeur first came in.
Some faculty, like UBC history professor Paul Krause, question why there was no general warning issued about the incidents.
“I am at a loss to explain why that was not the case,” Krause said. “I think it would probably help if, for once, someone accepted responsibility for not doing exactly what needs to be done.”
But, university officials told Global News they thought they were dealing with a voyeur, not an attacker, and increased security immediately.
“Things were quite different on Friday night, where [the suspect] attacked somewhere else on campus, we realized we were dealing with something more sinister,” said Louise Cowin with UBC. “At that time, we sent out an email to all faculty, staff and students.”
Officials are installing cameras on 40 new emergency phones around campus, but they won’t all be working until mid-April.
University officials will be meeting Tuesday morning to discuss the events of last week and come up with a plan going forward.
Meanwhile, RCMP are still looking for the suspect described as 5’10”, “darker skinned” and in his mid-to-late 20s with a slender build. He was seen wearing dark clothing, possibly with a dark hoodie, and smelled of tobacco.
Anyone with information that could help police with their investigation is asked to call UBC RCMP at 604-224-1322 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.
-With files from Justin McElroy and Tanya Beja