A day after the RCMP issued a warning following a sex assault at Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Burnaby campus, the school officials say they are taking the situation “extremely seriously.”
Investigators say a woman was walking to her car around 7:30 p.m. Tuesday night when she was grabbed by a man and sexually assaulted. The suspect let the victim go and fled the scene after he heard the voices of passersby, according to the RCMP.
The situation left many students, staff and faculty members concerned for their safety.
“I completely understand why they feel unsettled,” said SFU’s Director of Community Safety Julie Glazier. “It is an unsettling situation for all of us.”
Glazier says they have been working closely with police since the assault was brought to their attention.
“We want everyone in the university community — the students, staff, faculty and visitors to campus — to understand that we are taking this very seriously,” she said. “We want them to know that we care about their safety and security, and we want them to report anything suspicious to us.”
However, an SFU student, who contacted Global News after the story first broke and wants to remain anonymous, says SFU students have been reporting sexual harassment to security over the past few weeks and those concerns were dismissed.
“They had the power to prevent sexual assault when they knew it was going to happen and chose to ignore it multiple times,” the student told Global News in a message.
“A few years ago Maple Batalia was attacked and killed at SFU and it could have been prevented. Last night’s attack could have been prevented if SFU security took the previous allegations seriously.”
But the university told Global News the Tuesday assault and the concerns raised by the student are unrelated.
They say the concerns brought forward by the student are being investigated and a number of university groups are currently working on it, including Safety and Risk Services, the SFU Student Conduct Office and the SFU Human Rights Office, but the RCMP are not involved.
Glazier says she is surprised to hear the student thinks the concerns have been dismissed.
“I would encourage anyone, if they are feeling unsafe, to connect with us and connect with me personally, so we can address this,” she said. “They can come in, let me know why they feel unsafe – whether it is an incident that’s occurring at the university or something that’s occurring off-campus that they feel is impacting their studies or work at the university. I will work with them to come up with a holistic response. We will work together, so that they can feel safe coming to the university.”
Meanwhile, the RCMP are cautioning students and staff to stick to well-lit areas on campus and stay off their electronic devices to increase their situational awareness.
But one student Global News spoke with on campus says it is not always realistic.
“I feel like it is not a very helpful statement for women to say, stay in well-lit areas, because you have to go the way you have to go to get to your car,” the woman said. “If street lamps magically stopped sexual assaults, then we would have street lamps everywhere and the assaults would never happen.”
Glazier says they do regular safety audits of the campus, which include checking the adequacy of the lighting.
“Any areas that are brought to our attention as problematic, we will go out and do an audit of that area, including lighting and shrubbery,” Glazier said.
She says they are currently checking the area where the assault took place.
The university also offers a Safe Walk Program, which provides guided walks with uniformed staff members to wherever on campus the student needs to go. Glazier says the program gets approximately 250 uses a year.
But for now, the RCMP are continuing their investigation into Tuesday’s assault. They say the suspect is described as a tall man with a medium-to-heavy build and a deep voice. He was wearing a grey, long-sleeved hoodie or shirt.
Anyone with information about the assault is asked to contact Burnaby RCMP at 604-294-7922 or, if you wish to remain anonymous, Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.