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British Columbia UBC students warned about intruder before assault, security head says

A student was walking alone at 10 p.m. on Friday on the University of British Columbia campus when she was assaulted by a man who emerged from a wooded area, according to the RCMP’s university detachment.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

The head of campus security at the University of British Columbia says students were warned about a prowler in the women's residences before a violent sexual assault on the weekend.

But a UBC professor who has been pushing the institution for stronger policies to deal with sexual violence says he is unhappy with the response to reports of an intruder who police say may be linked to the Friday night attack on a 20-year-old woman.

"It was clear a prowler had been identified and yet there had been no general warning to the larger community, which I found troubling," Paul Krause, a history professor, said, adding the university has not done enough to protect women from predators.

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The RCMP's university detachment said the student was walking alone at 10 p.m. on Friday on Wesbrook Mall, a main corridor of the campus, when she was grabbed by an unknown man who emerged from a wooded area. He shoved her to the ground, but she managed to fight off the attacker, who then fled.

The RCMP are bringing in additional resources in the hopes of making an arrest. They describe the suspect as darker skinned, in his mid- to late-20s and about 5-foot-10 with a slender build.

Police say they received five reports of a man with a similar description who was lurking in the showers and other rooms of campus housing units for women in the days prior to the assault.

The first report about a prowler was made on March 23, and Barry Eccleton, the director of campus security for UBC, said the 10,000 students living on campus were notified by an e-mail warning the following day to be on alert for an intruder. He said security patrols were increased as well.

"There are constant reminders to the community to always be aware of their surroundings, and more importantly to be looking out for each other," Mr. Eccleton said. He added that UBC is in the process of implementing a number of safety improvements, including better lighting and landscaping. By April, the campus expects to have installed 80 emergency call stations equipped with cameras.

But Prof. Krause said the university needs to show more leadership around combatting sexual violence. He noted that in this instance, it had a legal obligation to explicitly warn students of threats. He said he has raised his concerns about the response to the intruder reports to the RCMP.

Prof. Krause has been outspoken about the university's handling of complaints raised by several history graduate students concerning the time it took to act on multiple allegations of sexual assault by a PhD candidate. An independent review of the matter concluded that the university's policies were not breached, but it did find delays and miscommunication. UBC is now drafting a stand-alone sexual-assault policy, which is to be delivered to the board of governors in June.

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Policies related to sexual assault vary across British Columbia's 25 public postsecondary institutions, but Premier Christy Clark has vowed to require universities and colleges to have policies protecting students from sexual assault.

The Premier's commitment was sparked by a private member's bill tabled by Green Party MLA Andrew Weaver. His bill would require postsecondary institutions to write and maintain stand-alone policies to respond to sexual violence, which advocates say are crucial because they set out procedures for responding to complaints and outline support services for victims.

In an interview Sunday, Mr. Weaver said his bill could help reduce the number of sexual assaults on campuses by ensuring there is more education aimed at prevention, and by requiring institutions to report acts of sexual violence so that incidents are not swept under the carpet.

"Most institutions do not have a policy, but they are starting to wake up now, after the Premier announced her support," he said. "The problems are systemic across British Columbia. Postsecondary institutions want to be perceived as safe places for students, so there is a lot of under-reporting."

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