Photo by Madeline Neumann
By Daniella Mikanovsky
*This article contains discussions of sexual assault*
Over the last few weeks, approximately 12 prowling incidents have occurred in the Westdale student neighborhood. In at least eight of the 12 cases, female students were directly targeted.
In the early hours of Aug. 3, fourth-year Integrated Science student Connor MacLean awoke to his roommate’s screams. An intruder entered their Sterling Street student house through a second story window, sexually assaulting MacLean’s roommate in her sleep. The intruder quickly escaped, marking the first incident in a series of break-ins and prowlers that have shaken Westdale since.
The following evening, just a few blocks away, McMaster alumna Nicole Clarke was relaxing in her basement room after a shower when she heard rustling in the hallway. She called out believing it was her mother. When the person ran up the stairs and out of their Haddon Avenue North family home, however, Clarke realized that that was not the case.
In both incidents, valuables were in clear sight, but nothing was stolen. At MacLean’s student house, the intruder reached over a laptop on the bed in order to assault the student. At Clarke’s home, the intruder walked past a television on his way to the basement.
The incidents did not stop there. Three weeks passed quietly, but on Aug. 28, a 21-year-old student woke up and saw a person standing in her bedroom. As soon as she screamed, the intruder ran down the stairs and out the front door.
Classes began. With them, another incident. On Sept. 4, a man attempted to enter a house at Paisley and Haddon. The girl living inside the house caught him prying a screen window off. She called the police.
The Hamilton Police have increased their presence in the area since. Nevertheless, as of yet, nobody has been caught in connection to the crimes, and it is too early for them to be connected.
On Sept. 7, McMaster Daily News released a statement reminding students to take precautions to protect themselves.
Given the recent incidents in the Westdale community, we wanted to provide @McMasterU @MSU_McMaster students with some important safety tips. Remember, don't wait to call police. If you see a crime in progress, call 911 immediately #HamOnt pic.twitter.com/rhQTHC1Zvc
— Hamilton Police (@HamiltonPolice) September 7, 2018
“McMaster University has shared alerts about some recent concerning incidents in Hamilton’s Westdale neigbourhood. As Hamilton Police Services continue their investigation, the McMaster community is reminded of some steps to take for safety and security, as well as some available support services and resources,” read part of the statement.
It should be noted that all the break-ins occurred through unlocked windows or doors.
“I think it is very important that students stay vigilant and look out for each other. When we come home, we lock all of our doors as soon as we get in. Lock all your windows. You can get pieces of wood and put them in the sliding track of your window so that even if it is unlocked, they can’t open it from the outside,” said MacLean.
On campus, there are a number of resources available to students who feel unsafe or at risk. For instance, the McMaster Students’ Union Student Walk Home Attendant Team is available every night of the week from 7:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.
Sowmya Karthikeyan, SWHAT Coordinator, suggests that students should utilize the service whenever they need it.
“If you’re here with a couple of your friends, we can definitely walk in groups and drop people off individually,” said Karthikeyan. “In one walk we can drop all those people off, at that time we’re connected directly to McMaster Security.”
Using SWHAT’s service in groups allows student volunteers to help more students reach their homes safely in shorter periods of time.
The university also has several support systems in place. In particular, students who have been affected by sexual violence or are worried for their safety during this time are encouraged to contact Meaghan Ross, the sexual violence response coordinator at the Equity and Inclusion Office.
Students living in the Westdale area should report any suspicious activity to the Hamilton Police and McMaster Security. They can provide anonymous information with Crime Stoppers Hamilton. In the cases of emergency, students should contact 911.