Within 52 days and the space of several blocks, 12 Toronto women have been attacked in the same way by suspects described so similarly that police believe they may be the same person.
A month after hundreds of residents rallied at Christie Pits Park against the rash of attacks, a trio of sexual assaults over Thanksgiving weekend has sent that sense of security teetering again.
Temerta Medhen sees the area’s beefed-up police presence almost nightly, in the form of cruisers at the corner of Bloor and Christie streets just across from the Abyssinia bar and restaurant where she works. But she can’t reconcile the innumerable eyes on a perpetually busy intersection with the reality of repeated sexual attacks.
“This isn’t a forest,” she said, gesturing to the teeming street and grassy park. “It’s a public place. There’s a Tim Hortons. There are taxis.”
For three years, 40-year-old Ms. Medhen has walked without qualms from the restaurant to her home on Christie – often as late as 2 a.m. when her shift ended. Now, she’s having second thoughts. Even the police patrolling the area have told her not to walk home alone after dark.
On Saturday night, two women were attacked on the same residential block within five minutes: A man assaulted each from behind and fled north up Montrose Avenue towards Harbord Street. On Sunday, a woman was assaulted at the same corner of Bloor and Grace streets as two others several weeks ago.
Police won’t say whether these three most recent sexual assaults are linked to another nine in August, when women aged 16 to 26 were attacked in near-identical circumstances. “There are enough similarities that there’s a possibility” the August assaults were committed by one person, Tony Vella said Tuesday.
The assailant in each case is described as a heavyset black man between 25 and 40 years old, clean-shaven and with short hair.
Police say they’ve had increased patrols of both uniformed and plainclothes officers in the neighbourhood since August, but won’t say how many. They suspect more women have yet to come forward, and are urging anyone who might know anything about these attacks, any local businesses with slivers of helpful surveillance footage, to get in touch.
“Two victims didn’t come forward for a couple of days,” Detective Sue Kernohan said Tuesday. “A member of the public may have seen something and they’re not sure its actually suspicious. … It may be victims approached but not assaulted. Please, give us a call.”
The number of sexual assaults reported in Toronto has risen every year for the last four. That could be because more women are speaking up, rather than more people being attacked. But as of Sept. 30, there had been 1,212 sexual assaults reported in Toronto this year – a 12-per-cent decline compared to the same date in 2011. This definition of sexual assault ranges from groping to rape. The assaults chiefly involved women being accosted from behind as they walked, and then groped, police sources told The Globe and Mail.
Kayla Burtch moved to the Bloor and Montrose area last month. Ever since, she’s made sure her friends walk her home at night. Failing that, “I try to walk quickly.”
“I feel like no matter where I am, the onus is on me,” she said. “And it shouldn’t be.”