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Torontonians call for action after spate of sex assaults

Several hundred women march down Grace Street as part of ‘Action against Recent Sexual Assaults,’ in Toronto, Sept. 3, 2012. (

J.P. Moczulski/The Globe and Mail

Hundreds of people gathered at Christie Pits Park on Monday night to march in response to sexual assaults in the neighbourhood this summer.

Organizers had not expected more than a handful of people to show up when they put notification about their "Action Against Recent Sexual Assaults" event online on Friday.

But several hundred people gathered shortly before sunset at the park, before marching south to College Street and then back to the park.

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"This is really a moment for us to collectively communicate – to our city, to our neighbourhoods and to the public institutions that claim to keep us safe – that we actually don't feel safe," organizer Anni Spadafora, 26, said in an interview.

Last week, Toronto police issued a warning about a "series of sexual assaults" near Bloor Street West and Christie Street and two near Spadina Avenue and College Street that were potentially related.

Since then, more women have come forward about alleged assaults near Christie Pits.

About 10 incidents that may be related are under investigation, Detective Viv Meik said on Monday.

Among the crowd were MPPs Rosario Marchese, Jonah Schein and Cheri DiNovo, all New Democrats, and councillor Mike Layton.

Mr. Layton urged people, particularly men, to speak out against sexual violence.

Deb Singh of the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre addressed the crowd – dotted with a few signs displaying messages such as "walk without fear" – before the march.

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"I'm disgusted, as a community member … I'm thoroughly appalled. But I'm even more appalled by all the rapes that are happening, all the sexual assaults that are happening, across the city," Ms. Singh said, listing reports in several areas.

"There's also a lot of violence that isn't being reported."

Last Wednesday, sex crimes unit Detective Constable Phillip Campbell said four women in their 20s and late teens had reported to police in recent weeks that they had been sexually assaulted near Christie Pits.

The suspect was described as a black male, aged 17 to 35 with short black hair.

"The females were walking alone, they were approached from behind and they were attacked," Det. Constable Campbell said, declining to go into more detail.

Two similar sexual assaults in July near Kensington Market have been reported, but Det. Constable Campbell said police are trying to work out whether there's one or more suspects.

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"All we can say right now is the attacks are similar and the suspect description has been described as similar," he said.

He added that police have "raised the bar" and put extra uniformed and plain clothes officers in the area, and investigators are working on the case from the sex crimes unit and two divisions.

"We want to raise that awareness, we want to create a buzz in the area," Det. Constable Campbell said.

But Ms. Spadafora said many people feel frustrated about leaving the issue with police and want to take action themselves.

Fiona St. Clair, 61, was among those in the crowd. "It's worrying because you want to be able to walk, at any age," she said.

Ms. St. Clair said even though she doesn't live in the immediate area, she thought it was important to attend to claim back the space, as it would be for many areas in the city.

"Whether it makes a difference or not, I don't know," she said.

"At least it makes people aware."

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