Police and women’s groups gathered this week to grapple with the confusion and fear surrounding recent sexual assaults in Whitehorse.
“We understand that there’s a lot the RCMP can’t say because of the investigation,” said Terri Brown, the Whitehorse Aboriginal Women’s Circle’s executive director. “But sometimes, as women, we can say, ‘You know, we don’t know if there is a serial predator, and whether or not there is one, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings at all times and be in control, so that you’re safe.’
“That’s good advice for anybody, at any time.”
Instead of hearing those instructions from the RCMP after the first few attacks, victims and women began taking matters into their own hands, warning friends and coworkers.
Information spread on Facebook and other social media.
“People began to get afraid and it just snowballed,” said Brown.
The police eventually responded with a news release posted on its website on October 26.
And at the gathering on Wednesday, RCMP spoke directly to women.
“There have been four reported cases of sexual assault in Whitehorse within the last two weeks,” said Cpl. Rick Aird. “We have enough information in two of the cases to say confidently that they are not related to any of the others. In two other cases, we are still trying to determine if there is a link. In order to say that these are connected, we need more information.”
The hope is to give enough information to provide comfort, but not enough to jeopardize the success of the investigation, future charges or prosecution, said Aird.
But whether the assaults are connected or not, the fact is there is a predator preying on vulnerable women – which is nothing new, said Brown.
“These predators are always there,” she said.
And yes, alcohol and drugs increase women’s vulnerability.
That is also nothing new, she added.
And unfortunately, everyone’s heard the statistics before as well.
Statistics that increase with aboriginal women, young women, impoverished women and women working in specific industries, said Brown.
“The three territories have the highest rates of sexualized violence,” she said. “We hear it all the time and people are just saying, ‘Well, what do you do?’
“What do you do? Everybody has a part to play. It’s not a women’s issue, it’s our whole society. We, as women, have the human right to dignity and safety and we need to call on the proper authorities to provide that.”
Brown isn’t sure whether she’s satisfied with how the police in Whitehorse have been dealing with the recent assaults.
“There’s always room for improvement,” she said. “We want to get as much information as we can. We want to be able to say, ‘Yes, the police are doing their job to the best of their ability.’ And we need to call them to task on that at all times.
“And it’s very time consuming, I’m sure, for them to meet with us all the time, but if that is going to change the statistics, that is what we should do.”
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at firstname.lastname@example.org