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Unprecedented police presence at one of North America's safest universities

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University of British Columbia President Stephen Toope comments on the recent sex assaults on the campus, in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday October 30, 2013. The RCMP believe one suspect is responsible for six sex assaults that occurred on campus since April. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

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University of British Columbia President Stephen Toope comments on the recent sex assaults on the campus, in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday October 30, 2013. The RCMP believe one suspect is responsible for six sex assaults that occurred on campus since April. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VANCOUVER - A series of sexual assaults at the University of B.C. has prompted an unusual “climate of fear” and unprecedented police and security measures, the university’s president said Wednesday.

RCMP say there have been six attacks on women at UBC’s Vancouver campus since April, with the latest incident occurring on Sunday.

UBC President Stephen Toope stressed on Wednesday that the current situation on campus is “extremely unusual,” and that the school now has a higher police and security presence than ever.

“This is one of the safest campuses in North America,” he told reporters. “There is not normally a climate of fear or insecurity on the campus.”

The RCMP’s major crimes section believes one man is responsible for three attacks this month and similar incidents in April, May and September.

All the women were attacked while walking alone late at night on campus.

Hours for a program called Safewalk have now been extended so students can have two people walk them home as late as 4 a.m.

An outside security company has been hired to bolster the university’s own resources and volunteers have also stepped in to patrol the campus, Toope said.

“At the same time the RCMP has increased dramatically their patrols on campus and we’re working very much in collaboration. There is far more police presence on campus than ever in the history of the campus,” he said.

“We are putting the resources that are necessary to keep the campus as safe as it possibly (can be). Frankly, we are not counting our pennies at this moment.”

Toope said the university has already spent millions of dollars to upgrade lighting in the last two years.

Since this month’s attacks, the university has also increased the intensity of existing lights from dusk until dawn, said Lucie McNeill with UBC Public Affairs.

Toope said the issue of security cameras has been raised, but he is hesitant about them because of privacy concerns.

“This is a university campus,” he said. “I certainly am reluctant to make a commitment at this point that the entire campus should be subject to surveillance.”

A campus security working group is expected to report in a month with suggestions on enhanced security measures, Toope said.

He made his comments about the assaults a month after scandal erupted over a controversial frosh-week rape chant that involved the university’s Sauder School of Business’s undergraduate society.

Robert Helsley, dean of Sauder School, announced then that it would be ending its support for freshmen activities after investigating the chant.

RCMP say the assault suspect has been described as a six-foot Caucasian man in his mid-20s to early 30s, and that he has attacked the victims from behind.

In one case this month, a woman reported her attacker ripped her nylons, but fled when she screamed.

The university has consistently warned students not to walk alone at night since the attacks, but organizers of a student-led rally Wednesday night said UBC and the police should not be blaming women for inviting attacks by choosing to walk on their own in the dark.

One of the speakers at the rally, Keira Smith-Tague of the Vancouver Rape Relief Centre, told an estimated crowd or between 75 and 100 people that women live in fear of rape every day are ”sick of it.”

She urged men to join the battle to end violence against women, saying women can’t do it without them.

‘‘Don‘t be a silent witness to rape culture,‘‘ she said. ‘‘Call out other men‘s sexist behaviour (and) choose to believe women when they tell you they were raped.‘‘

Smith-Tague also urged society to dispel myths that women are ‘‘asking for it‘‘ by the way that they dress or what they drink.

Some people said it makes sense to take precautions.

“I find it very sad that women are mad at UBC for encouraging them to walk safe and take precautions. Why? because they feel this is indicating that it’s the woman’s fault,” wrote someone under the name of Abbie Wilson on the Take Back The Night rally’s Facebook page.

“What if the sexual assaults were actually murders? Would we be mad at UBC telling us to be careful? Absolutely not. We would be vigilant and would see it more of just trying to protect ourselves.”

UBC business student William Zhou acknowledged that as a male student, he worries less about his personal safety than his female counterparts. However, there are ill intentioned-people out there, and everyone should take care not to put themselves in a vulnerable position, he said.

“You shouldn’t put yourself in that situation if you know this kind of stuff is happening, right?” he said. “I’m not saying it’s their fault, but they should really be careful for themselves.”

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version gave an incorrect name for the Take Back The Night rally.

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