By RACHEL HENRY
Store employees at Fairview Park Mall in Kitchener are exercising caution after a string of incidences targeting young women.
Over the last few weeks there have been several reported incidences of older men harassing female employees. These incidences have included phone calls and visits to the individual’s place of work.
According to the Ontario Department of Justice, the circumstances fall under the category of criminal harassment, which includes stalking.
“Criminal harassment consists of repeated conduct that is carried out over a period of time and that causes victims to reasonably fear for their safety but does not necessarily result in physical injury,” the Ontario Department of Justice website said. “It may be a precursor to subsequent violent acts.”
Danika Smyth, who asked that her place of employment not be named due to fear for her safety, was taking a smoke break on Jan. 4 when she was approached by an elderly man.
“I was finishing my smoke by the doors and he came out and made some comment about how light it was out,” Smyth said. “I just laughed and he introduced himself. He asked if I had a pen and paper so I could give him my number. I said no, and he said he wanted to tour me around Alberta and kept patting his pockets looking for a pen.”
Smyth said she began to feel uncomfortable so she told the man she had to get back to work and, in a moment of panic, flashed her store badge at him before rushing inside.
When she returned to her store, Smyth told her manager what transpired. Smyth said her manager offered to call security but she brushed it off.
Not 15 minutes later, while she was preparing a customer for an ear piercing, the same man entered the store and approached Smyth again.
Marissa Sheehan, Smyth’s manager, said she asked the man to leave four times before calling security.
“I called security, who came and asked him to leave at least three times,” Sheehan said. “He completely ignored them too, and had to be escorted out. Not only was he making Danika feel incredibly uncomfortable, but all the customers in the store knew something was going on.”
Sheehan said though the man is banned from their store, he is still permitted to enter the mall. Both Smyth and Sheehan have since seen him, and said they avoided contact out of fear of repeating the incident. They described him as in his early 60s and well spoken.
Fairview Park security, though unable to release specific information, confirmed that there have been several reports of similar events.
Fairview Mall stores have since adopted new and less lax procedures to ensure the safety of their employees, such as always working in pairs and not giving out personal information to customers. Security will also escort employees to their vehicles as needed.
Hayley Weiner, another Fairview Park Mall employee, said her store was receiving anonymous phone calls asking for the personal information of women working on the sales floor.
“They would call and ask, ‘What’s the girl’s name that’s wearing the pink shirt?’” Weiner said. “We’ve had a couple of staff meetings addressing the situation since then, and we’re not allowed to give out names of anyone that works here, over the phone or in person.”
In 2010 Stats Can reported an increase in cases of criminal harassment, while there was a reported decrease in murder, serious assaults and robbery.
Though unsure of how the situation would have escalated if the man had gotten her personal information, Smyth was disturbed by the events.
“I’ll never be able to be alone at the mall at night anymore,” Smyth said. “It creeps me out.”
Should an individual become uncomfortable with the conversation or actions of another individual with a reasonable fear for their safety, Waterloo Regional Police ask you to call 519-653-7700 to make a report, or if within the mall, contact security. If there is an immediate risk to anyone’s safety, call 9-1-1.