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Websites stirring up attack fears

SOCIAL media sites are stoking fears of an increase in random sex attacks but are also providing a high-tech tool for police investigating sexual assaults.

A string of high-profile attacks, including the murder of Jill Meagher and a string of sexual assaults by one man in the eastern suburbs, has generated fear among Melbourne women, with many saying they are frightened to go out alone at night.

But police believe any apparent rise in random attacks may be linked to better reporting rather than an increase in actual attacks.

''We can't say categorically that there has not been an actual increase in the incidence of sexual assaults as opposed to increased reporting,'' Detective Superintendent Rod Jouning told Fairfax Media.

''Due to the nature of this offending, looking at a month or two of data does not really show much, so we will probably need to wait until the annual data to actually identify whether there has been an increase.

''[But] statistically, we cannot see a dramatic increase. It is in line with a steady increase in reporting over the last three years in sexual offences generally, and is in line with what we have been encouraging people to do as part of our five-year violence against women and children strategy targets.''


A spate of assaults and attempted abductions across Melbourne last month reignited fears that random sex attacks were on the rise.

In the space of a few days, a 10-year-old girl managed to escape an abduction attempt in Pakenham, a 16-year-old schoolgirl fought off an attacker in Gardenvale, women were assaulted in Parkville, Hoppers Crossing, Essendon and Hampton and the eastern suburbs sex attacker struck for the ninth time, in Hawthorn. An assault in Box Hill South this week has also been linked to the attacker.

But Superintendent Jouning said it was important to note that only 17 per cent of sexual assaults were carried out by unknown attackers, with a further 9 per cent in which a relationship, or lack of, was not specified. He also said the phenomenal rise of social media had affected perceptions of sex attacks.

In the wake of Jill Meagher's disappearance, Facebook pages calling for public help to find her were inundated with reports of sexual assaults. A number of women reported being assaulted recently in the Brunswick area from which Ms Meagher disappeared.

''We do believe there is increased media awareness around the issue and in turn increased reporting of sexual offences or attempted sexual offences that have occurred,'' Superintendent Jouning said.

''The rise in the use of social media means that police are often using this as an investigation tool to assist in gathering information from the public. This certainly plays a role in the public perception of the issue and the appearance that there is a spike in these types of crimes.

''That said, sexual offences remain one of the most under-reported of all crimes, something we are working hard to address.''