Content warning: The following story deals with sexual assault and may be distressing for some readers. If you or someone you know is in need of support, you can find province-specific centres, crisis lines, and services here.
After warnings popped up on social media sites last week urging people to be vigilant following an alleged brutal sexual assault in East Vancouver, police are saying the claims were not totally accurate.
According to the posts, a woman was reportedly kidnapped after leaving a pub in the area of Powell Street and Victoria Drive. They say she was sexually assaulted, severely beaten, and left at a park on Saturday, Nov. 4.
The posts added the “predator is still at large” and urged people to reshare the warning with “other femme-identifying folks in the neighbourhood,” recommending they “be super aware” of their surroundings and to not walk alone at night.
The Vancouver Police Department previously told CityNews it had not received any reports of the incident. However, Sgt. Steve Addison says the department opened an investigation after becoming aware of the “very violent and graphic details that were included in the social media post.”
“Given the information that was contained within the social media posts was quite alarming, quite detailed in depicting a violent crime against a woman in our community, it created an understandably significant amount of alarm and concern on social media,” he said.
Details outlined in post have not been confirmed, the VPD says
Speaking to CityNews on Wednesday, the VPD said it has not been able to corroborate the details circulated in the original post.
“We believe the person who posted the information online was likely well-intentioned, they believed they were posting accurate information, but … after conducting an investigation and speaking to the person referenced in the post, we’ve been unable to confirm certain details,” said Addison.
“And further, we believe some of the details in the post were not accurate.”
Addison adds the woman referenced did not write the post and is “not responsible for the content.”
Addison says investigators believe what may have happened was not “sexual in nature,” adding investigators aren’t sure if a crime took place. Despite this, Addison stresses police are not dismissing the report and says the investigation remains open.
He adds there is “no imminent public risk.”
“We’re continuing to investigate, we’re continuing to work to fully understand everything that did happen and will continue the investigative process until we have a complete understanding of what happened,” he explained.
“However, at this point, we don’t believe that there’s an imminent public safety risk. And we still got some work to do to fully understand everything.”
Addison declined to specify which details in the post were inaccurate as the investigation is ongoing.
Police refusing to call woman a ‘victim’ as investigation hasn’t yet found criminality
The woman referenced in the post has been forthcoming with information, Addison says, and has been providing “valuable information” to the investigation. However, when asked why police were not referring to her as a “victim,” Addison explained that investigators are still working to determine if there was a crime, “and indeed, if there was a crime, who committed a crime.”
Addison confirms the woman does have injuries but police do not know how they happened.
“Our job is to understand the facts, and our job is to be objective and methodical in our collection of evidence. Right now, I can tell you that there’s a person (who) does have some injuries, and we’re working to understand how that person sustained those injuries,” he said.
Addison understands the way people consume and find information has changed — many turn to social media to find up-to-date news and public safety information. But he stresses, in this particular case and others, “if we investigate an incident where we believe that there’s a public safety risk, where we believe there’s a danger to the public, or we believe that a violent crime has occurred against a person, we’ll be the first person to tell you.”
“We take that role in that responsibility very seriously. Our track record speaks for itself in terms of alerting the public and informing the public of matters of significant public safety,” Addison said.
“In this case, the nature of this social media story and how it took on a bit of a life on its own … is a bit of a reflection of the world we live in.”
–With files from Sonia Aslam and Hana Mae Nassar