A 22-year-old woman is recovering from a head injury and sexual assault after being attacked near the Mission Creek Greenway Monday evening.
The victim called police to report she had been hit over the head, dragged into the woods near the end of a trail and sexually assaulted by a man she did not know.
She met police at the main entrance to Mission Creek Regional Park, off Durnin and Springfield roads, at 8:45 p.m., and a team of RCMP officers began searching for the suspect.
“Police believe that there may have been hikers or riders in the area at the time of the assault who may have seen or heard this incident,” said Const. Kris Clark, Kelowna RCMP spokesperson.
The area is an extremely well-used section of Mission Creek Regional Park and the Mission Creek Greenway, a linear trail running 16.5 kilometres from Okanagan Lake to East Kelowna. The Greenway acts as a main thoroughfare for bike commuters and recreational runners, walkers and hikers.
In the area where the assault took place, smaller trails traverse both the lower portion of the park, where the Greenway sits, and an upper forested area abutting the Hall Road neighbourhood.
The victim is said to have been taken to hospital for treatment and released.
A description of the assailant has not been released.
The Greenway is a known hotspot for the homeless, who camp in the underbrush lining the trail; but the victim apparently has not identified her assailant as someone who appeared to be transient or living in the park.
Though quick to point out RCMP never blame the victim, Clark said police are cautioning anyone who frequents the area not to walk, bike or run alone.
“If you must walk alone, stay alert to your surroundings, including people in the area, businesses and sources of assistance,” said Clark.
The victim was apparently out for a walk at the time of the assault, which occurred during daylight hours as the time of sunset for June 3 was 9 p.m.
By Wednesday morning, when police began releasing details of the assault, RCMP had already completed a secondary search for the suspect, to no avail.
Cases like this are very uncommon.
“In most sexual assault incidents, the perpetrator is known to the victim. This dynamic is often why very few victims report sexual assault,” said Aimee Thompson, agency coordinator for the Central Okanagan Elizabeth Fry Society, a non-profit organization supporting victims of sexual assault.
“This recent incident represents a terrifying scenario for women who use the Greenway and the people who care about them,” she added. “This is not the first incident on the Greenway. Clearly, the Greenway presents safety issues for vulnerable people.”
A string of assaults in 2011 involving a man groping women on the Mission Park Greenway also involved an assailant who was unknown to his victims. The culprit used a bike to ride up to unsuspecting cyclists and pedestrians and grab them in broad daylight, even with others nearby. The incidents remain unsolved.
The Elizabeth Fry Society is urging local authorities to investigate safety measures that could be implemented on the Greenway so all residents, men and women, can enjoy the trails safely.
“We all need to take care of each other and watch out for one another,” Thompson said.
There has been one other unknown assailant targeting random victims in Kelowna recently. The cross-dressing flasher frequents areas in Rutland and the downtown core. His activities prompted police to alert the public to the danger he poses and seek help in identifying him in a press release mid-May.
This latest incident poses a much higher risk to the public, according to Const. Clark who noted RCMP have made no link between the flasher or the groper and this current case.
In recent history, only one case of this magnitude stands out in the Central Okanagan. A man dubbed the “Rutland rapist” by the media assaulted 10 women on 11 occasions in 2007, pulling some at random from the street.
The assailant was eventually caught and identified as Okanagan Sun football player Tyler Stephens. In 2009, he was sentenced to five years, in addition to time served, with an additional 10 years of probation to follow.
Anyone with information on Monday’s assault is asked to call the Kelowna RCMP Const. McBride at 250-762-3300. To remain anonymous, call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477, leave a tip online or text a tip to CRIMES (274637) ktown.