VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Calling it one of the worst cases they’ve ever seen, Vancouver police are investigating a violent sexual assault that left a 76-year-old woman with life-threatening injuries.
Police were called to the woman’s downtown Vancouver care home by staff on Thursday, where they found the victim with severe injuries.
The victim also had “significant” bruising and discolouration on her face.
Const. Tania Visintin says “because of the extent of her injuries, she’s been unable to tell us exactly what happened.”
Police were called to the victim’s care home in downtown Vancouver on Thursday.
The victim frequents Cathedral Park at Dunsmuir and Richards, she may have been there before or after attack. Due to extreme injuries, the victim hasn’t been able to give full details to police.
— Bailey Nicholson (@bcjnicholson) September 11, 2021
According to Visintin, the woman left her residence for two days between Tuesday afternoon and Thursday morning. When she returned, she came back with serious injuries that landed her in hospital.
The victim is known to frequent the area of Cathedral Park near Dunsmuir Street and Richards Street and may have been there “either before or after the attack.”
“This is a shocking case, and the victim’s injuries are some of the worst we’ve seen,” Visintin said. “We don’t yet know who did this or where it happened, so we’re asking everyone to be vigilant until we find out more.”
A suspect is being described as a white man with a stocky build, between 35-40 years old, with light to dark brown shaggy hair and a stubble beard. He has a wide set of eyes and a short neck as well. He was spotted wearing a black or navy coloured jacket.
Visintin adds this assault has prompted an “all hands on deck” response as a dozen officers flood the area to gather evidence.
“Typically, we don’t like to go out with too much detail about a victim. But in this case, we need more information,” the constable said.
“We all have seniors, whether it’s our parents or grandparents, aunts, uncles, whatnot in our life, and it is something that’s hard to talk about. And of course, any type of sex assault is always concerning. But she is a vulnerable member of the public, she’s elderly, and she’s in a wheelchair. So we want everyone to look out for each other.
“If you see anything suspicious, be a good witness, intervene when it’s safe to do so. And most importantly, call 911.
“Incidents like this are rare, especially a victim that is vulnerable, she’s elderly, she’s in a wheelchair, and it is very concerning for us and the public should be outraged as our investigators are outraged,” Visintin said.
Violence against older women is not rare, says professor
Meanwhile, a UBC law professor who specializes in policy issues regarding violence against women and sexual assault says they now have more questions about the incident.
Isabel Grant wonders why the victim’s absence was not noted and police were not contacted after she left the facility.
However, Grant notes assault against older women is more common than many people might think. According to a study they did with a colleague, the literature “doesn’t really support the idea that sexual violence against older women is rare.”
“What seems to be rare is prosecution of those cases,” Grant noted, adding “there is often in those cases an extraordinary amount of violence, much more violence than is necessary to perpetrate a sexual assault.”
The level of violence experienced by older women in cases such as these can have a “devastating impact” on the victim, they note.
Grant says prosecution can be delayed when victims don’t have the time or ability to come into court.
“Another problem is the trauma around the assault. We’ve seen cases where the amount of trauma experienced by the complainant was so great that they are simply unable to participate in a criminal justice process — which is grueling at the best of times, let alone when you’ve gone through something like that,” Grant said. “Memories may also be less good initially in someone who’s older.”
In order to keep our older populations safe, Grant says we need to ask questions about how we care for them.
“How did this woman leave a facility where she was supposed to be, you know, being given adequate care and supervision and then disappear for a period of time and come back with such serious injuries?” they said.
We must also look at the conditions within long-term care homes, and understand the danger to residents isn’t just from external actors.
“Residents in long-term care face the danger of sexual violence from a number of different sources. It’s not always from the outside world. Sometimes it’s from other residents, sometimes it’s from staff who work in the facility. But we have to do more to invest in those kinds of facilities to make sure that people are getting an adequate standard of living,” Grant said.
However, it’s not just older women in long-term care who face threats of violence, Grant notes.
“There are also dangers for women living in the community who are older, particularly women who live alone, who are often targeted for male violence. There are a number of different scenarios that we need to look at if we are genuinely committed to reducing this kind of offense from happening,” they said.
Vancouver police are urging anyone to call VPD investigators at 604-717-0602 who has information about the incident or who may have seen an elderly woman in a wheelchair with bruising on her face between Tuesday, Sept. 7 at 2 p.m. and Thursday, Sept. 9 at 11 a.m.