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Toronto Police issue alert after alleged sexual assault at York frosh event

Students walk on the York University campus in Toronto.

Mark Blinch/REUTERS

Toronto Police have issued an alert after a woman says she was sexually assaulted at a York University frosh week event Friday morning.

Sergeant Janine Hancock said the 18-year-old woman, believed to be a student at York, was at a frosh party early Friday when she was approached from behind by a man and allegedly sexually assaulted.

The woman was able to free herself from the scene and flagged down a police officer on campus at about 1:25 a.m.

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The incident happened at Stong residence, a building on the university's Keele campus.

"We have officers who do work through York University this time of year due to the number of students who are normally on scene at the university the first week," said Sergeant Hancock.

Police are searching for a suspect between 5-foot-2 and 5-foot-7, with olive or tanned skin, between the ages of 18 and 20 years old. He is described as having a medium build, with a lower right lip piercing, and was wearing a hoodie over a baseball cap, and black sunglasses at the time of the incident.

In an e-mailed statement Friday morning, York University spokeswoman Joanne Rider wrote that the school is working closely with police on the investigation.

"We will provide counselling and support to the survivor," she wrote. "We take the safety of all students very seriously."

But York students are questioning why it took so long for the school to alert students. A security bulletin did not appear on the school's website until sometime after 10 a.m. Friday morning, and there was no mention of the attack on the school's Twitter or Facebook accounts.

"I think earlier definitely would have been better, because it's a whole new day, folks are already up and at events," Safiyah Husein, vice-president of equity with the York Federation of Students said earlier Friday. "I think it would've been helpful at this point to have been alerted."

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She acknowledged that the school has become quicker in responding to these events in the recent past, but that there's "still room for improvement."

Ms. Rider, the York University spokesperson, said that the school tries to send out an alert within four hours of receiving a report, but that additional time is often required to "gather and verify facts to ensure we are communicating accurate information to the York community." Ms. Rider added that an e-mail was also sent out to students shortly after 10 a.m.

Security has been a concern at York University, after a number of similar assaults in recent years. In July of last year, a man was arrested in connection with a string of sexual assaults on campus. And in the fall of 2007, a York graduate and friend sneaked into a campus residence, sexually assaulting two young women.

In response to those earlier incidents, the university had vouched to step up security, and to respond quicker in alerting students.

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