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Friends of teen assaulted at Terwillegar Recreation Centre want city to improve security

Friends of a teen assaulted at the Terwillegar Rec Centre last week are calling on the City of Edmonton to increase safety at city-run recreation centres. Global News

“As expected they are devastated,” says Jennifer Kennedy. “They go from everything feeling surreal to shock. It’s just a cycle of a million emotions at once.”

Kennedy is referring to the emotions her family friend and daughter have been struggling with since the daughter was sexually assaulted.

The Edmonton Police Service (EPS) said the attack happened at the Terwillegar Recreation Centre on Tuesday around 4:30 p.m.

It was reported to police that a 13-year-old girl entered a family change room stall and was followed in by an unknown man, who proceeded to sexually assault her.

Police announced Thursday morning a suspect turned himself in. His name has not been released until formal charges are laid.

“She was sexually assaulted in the worst way,” Kennedy said. “This wasn’t someone that brushed up against her swimming, this wasn’t somebody taking a picture of her. This was an assault in the worst way, the most devastating way, and she will have to live with that for the rest of her life.”

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Kennedy said she and the teen’s family want the city to make changes to prevent a similar incident from happening in the future.

“You should not be able to walk into a changeroom where there are young children alone, where there are parents with small children. The city needs to be accountable for this.”

Kennedy would like to see a wristband system, where rec centre users would have to show their ID before entering.

“At least if you showed your ID and then you got a wristband, they’d know who was in the facility.”

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“This is really disturbing and alarming incident that nobody should have to deal with,” said Tim Cartmell, Edmonton city councillor for Ward pihêsiwin. “I’m hoping that they will be able to start their journey towards recovery, we know that will be a long journey.”

Cartmell said he has heard concerns from residents over incidents at the rec center including thefts and bullying, adding Terwillegar isn’t the only rec center experiencing such issues.

“I think we’re going to need to dial up our scrutiny of these spaces, particularly those spaces that are not on camera, changerooms, washrooms,” Cartmell continued.

“That’s going to mean more eyes on those spaces, more personnel, more patrols, more people walking around, more people going into those spaces that aren’t on camera so that we can offer people a level of safety that we don’t have right now.”

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Cartmell said he’s already met with city administrators to discuss the issues.

“This incident happened in a family change space so it’s hard to know who ought to belong in those spaces. It’s hard to discern who’s there for the right reasons so that’s why we’re going to need more people spending time in those spaces and making sure that those are safe spaces for everyone,” Cartmell said.

Kennedy has started a GoFundMe page to help raise money for the family. She said the teen’s mother does not have benefits to cover counselling and the family has already paid about $1,500 for the first two sessions. She described her friend as a dedicated single mother with two teenage girls.

“She’s dedicated her life to those girls. She has the expectation that her child is going to be safe, going to a city run facility,” Kennedy said of the teen’s mother.

“A stranger attack like this, in a populated recreation centre is incredibly concerning and we encourage anyone who knows more about this incident or the male suspect to contact police immediately,” said EPS’ Child Protection Section Det. Kevin Chung.

In the past five years, there have been 33 sexual assaults on minors at rec centres in the city, according to the Edmonton Police Service.

Last year saw a sharp increase, and police noted access to rec centres in the years prior was limited due to various COVID-19 pandemic closures and access limitations.

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Police provided the following breakdown:

  1. 2023:  17 assaults
  2. 2022: Four assaults *
  3. 2021 Two assaults *
  4. 2020 Three assaults *
  5. 2019: Seven assaults*Rec centres closed / limited accessibility due to Covid

Police said the Zebra Child and Youth Advocacy Centre is providing support to the young girl and family.

— with files from Karen Bartko

Click to play video: 'Edmonton police make arrest sexual assault of teen at Terwillegar Recreation Centre'
Edmonton police make arrest sexual assault of teen at Terwillegar Recreation Centre

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