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Cabbie sought for sexual attack

Police say driver took advantage of intoxicated woman

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John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press

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A young woman's weekend night out ended in horror when a taxi driver took advantage of her situation and subjected her to a serious sexual assault, Winnipeg police say.

Now, investigators are working to piece together clues in hopes of finding a suspect.

Police revealed details of the unusual case Monday and asked for tips from the public.

The woman had been at a nightclub with friends on Elizabeth Road in Windsor Park. She became separated from them when the bar closed around 2 a.m. Sunday.

Outside the club, she tripped and fell on the sidewalk. A cab driver placed her in his taxi, said Const. Jason Michalyshen.

The cabbie began kissing her when she asked to be taken to a specific location, said police.

She was driven away from the club -- first into North Kildonan, then to the area of Day Street near Thom Avenue East in Transcona.

It was there she was seriously sexually assaulted, said Michalyshen.

The cabbie took the victim to the destination she'd initially asked to go to, which was in the same area, said police.

Police were called there around 5:40 a.m. The victim was checked out soon after in hospital and had suffered injuries, said police.

"This is a very serious incident," said Michalyshen. The victim is "incredibly distraught" at what happened, he added.

Police didn't shy away from disclosing the victim had been drinking before going to the nightclub, as well as while she was there.

The suspect took advantage of her state, police suggested.

"She was obviously seen as a vulnerable individual based on the alcohol she had consumed," said Michalyshen.

The victim had been seated in the passenger side of the cab for at least some of the ride, police said.

Police had yet to identify the specific cab the victim had been in, or the company it belonged to. "That is something we're still working on," Michalyshen said.

A suspect description offered by police indicates they're searching for an East Indian man in his mid-20s who is thin and is 5-6 and 5-7.

At the time, he was wearing jeans and a T-shirt, said police.

The victim reported he had "tall or high" hair, which was unique in appearance. The victim described his hair as "weird," said Michalyshen.

He drove a silver Toyota Prius. Police also noted the suspect may have a scratch the victim gave him while she was being assaulted.

Investigators are working with cab companies to try to track the cab.

It's possible GPS data and camera footage from inside the car will play a role in the case, police said.

Police and Winnipeg's cab companies have a "great relationship," said Michalyshen.

"We're talking about a specific incident here. Our relationship remains strong with all taxicab companies."

A member of Manitoba's Taxicab Board said Monday complaints of sexual misconduct against drivers aren't common.

"We haven't had that many cases. I've never heard of anything as bad as this," Winnipeg Coun. Harvey Smith said. Smith is city council's representative on the board.

Smith said despite some of the vague elements of what police said happened to the woman, the fact she filed a report quickly after the assault will be helpful.

"I don't imagine she'd have filed a report unless there was some merit to what she's saying... it doesn't look good for (the cab driver) at this point," said Smith.

Cab drivers accused of sexual misconduct can see their licences suspended and ultimately cancelled if convicted.

"They're very difficult cases," Smith said of sex-related complaints.

"Sometimes it's very difficult to judge -- you're dealing with someone's livelihood. The main thing is that the public has to be protected," said Smith.

The board has heard only a couple of sexual-misconduct cases in the last two years or so, said Smith.

Criminal sexual-assault cases against drivers are also infrequent.

The most serious currently before the courts involves a Duffy's Taxi driver, 29, who is accused of raping a 12-year-old girl on July 15, 2012.

It's alleged the driver had been giving the girl a ride before taking her to an apartment, plying her with liquor and then seriously sexually assaulting her. Police charged him with sexual assault, sexual interference and forcible confinement. A jury trial is set to take place in May 2015.

Police ask anyone with information regarding Sunday morning's sexual assault to call investigators at 204-986-6245 or Crime Stoppers at 204-786-TIPS (8477).

 

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Passengers share difficult encounters

INAPPROPRIATE gestures, glances or questions, unwanted touching. Sometimes, it's a creepy vibe.

These are among examples of shady and negative episodes some Winnipeg women say they've had in taxicabs.

Their tales of bad rides began cropping up on social media Monday, shortly after police revealed they were seeking a driver in connection with the serious sexual assault of a woman early Sunday.

"It's the idea that there's strength in numbers," Shannon Sampert said of sharing stories on social media.

"They don't think they're going to be believed if it's just them," she added.

Sampert, a politics professor at the University of Winnipeg with expertise in the study of women and the law, said she once had a cab driver ignore her request to stop the vehicle.

He just kept going and wouldn't listen, Sampert said, so she began calling 911 for help.

"It's funny how quickly he stopped," she said.

Women often don't make formal complaints because they know the difficulties of obtaining convictions in court, said Sampert.

"It takes a lot of work, a lot of energy and for some women, it's just not worth it," she said.

"They just don't want to be laid bare (through the public justice process)," Sampert added. "They'd rather suffer in silence."

If that's to change, reform is needed to stop sexual-assault complaints from turning into "he-said, she-said" hearings, Sampert said.

As well, Sampert advocates for more funding for support for victims as their cases wind through the justice system.

-- Turner

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 15, 2014 B1

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Updated on Tuesday, July 15, 2014 at 7:16 AM CDT: Replaces photo, adds sidebar

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