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Toronto anti-assault rallies may have curbed attacks: Detective

A series of sexual assaults that caused residents of the Bloor/Christie neighbourhood to protest on the streets this summer may have started up again with three assaults committed over the Thanksgiving weekend, police say.

The initial assaults in July and August prompted residents to hold a rally against sexual assault in Christie Pits on Sept. 3. The annual Take Back The Night march, organized by the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre, was held Sept. 15 and a new the Take Back the Block event against sexual assault was held the same night.

However, the attacks started up again over Thanksgiving weekend when a suspect sexually assaulted two women within five minutes of each other on Saturday night near Montrose Avenue and College Street. The same suspect is wanted in a sexual assault that occurred at Grace Street near Bloor Street on Sunday night.

Sex crimes Detective Sue Kernohan said it’s “quite possible” that the anti-sexual assault activism was responsible for a lull in attacks.

“We did have a lot of attention in that area. There were a lot of media releases, police attention, it’s possible that working in conjunction with the public it had an effect,” Kernohan said.

Kernohan said that while the pattern of the assaults and suspect descriptions matched a string of about ten assaults committed in the area over the summer, police have not yet proved a link.

In each of the assaults, the suspect approaches the woman in the late evening from behind, sexually assaults her and flees. The suspect is described as a “heavy, stocky or tubby” black man, ranging in height from five feet five inches to five feet ten inches with very short hair or shaved head.  He has been seen wearing a baseball cap and sometimes a two-tone grey jacket.

If the perpetrator is the same in all of the attacks, there appears to have been a lull in the assaults between late August and early October, but it’s premature to say what may have caused a lull, said Kernohan.

Steph Guthrie was an organizer of the Take Back The Block parties, which were meant to make communities safer by encouraging people to spend time out in the streets and interacting with their neighbours.

“I’d be very happy if we played any role at all in deterring assault in the interim between early September and now. Although, as I understand, there have been many, many other assaults that have been happening,” said Guthrie. “It would be great if this guy—and it does sound very much like it’s the same guy—had been kept in a corner for awhile because he knows that Take Back The Block is happening, but I’m not sure that’s necessarily the case.”

Guthrie said she’s worried that police haven’t devoted enough resources, especially when it appeared the suspect had stopped the assaults.

“It’s great if community members do what Take Back The Block has encouraged, and making more active use of their community space to try and deter assaults, but if the police are not very religious patrolling that area then he’s not going to be caught because he runs away every time,” she said.

Kernohan said police have been patrolling the area and will soon be going door-to-door to ask the public for assistance. A sketch of the suspect should be available shortly, she said.

She is appealing to members the public to come forward immediate if they are assaulted or have seen anyone matching that description in the area.

“If there is any commercial or residential video during those times, please contact us. Any little bit of information will help,” she said.

Thanksgiving weekend assaults

Oct. 6, 10:55 p.m., Montrose Avenue near College Street

Oct. 6, 11 p.m., Montrose Avenue near College Street

Oct. 7, approximately 11:45 p.m., Grace Street near Bloor Street

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