WARNING: This article contains details of violence.
Police in Vancouver and Surrey say they are investigating a series of violent attacks in which groups of teens target one individual.
The most recent incident took place at Hillcrest Elementary School in Surrey on Saturday night, according to Cpl. Vanessa Munn with Surrey RCMP.
“The violence that was exhibited by the youth in this incident — it is extremely disturbing,” said Munn on Wednesday.
Video of the attack was recorded and posted online. It shows several teen girls yelling at one girl who is bleeding from her face.
The group swears at her and chases her, before cornering her against a chain link fence. She’s made to kiss the shoes of her attackers, while apologizing profusely for something — it’s not clear what.
“There did appear to be one main primary aggressor, but there were other people that were taking part in assaulting the victim,” alleged Munn, adding that one girl was arrested on Saturday before being released with conditions.
Munn said she hasn’t been charged yet, but will likely be. Charges are being considered for the other teens as well, she said.
“This was an extremely traumatic incident for this victim,” said Munn, adding that she was taken to hospital by officers who found her near the school.
“I’m sure this is something that I’m sure will be with them for a very long time.”
In Vancouver, Sgt. Steve Addison said police investigators are looking into at least four separate, and likely unconnected cases going back to March.
- On March 23, a 19-year-old was allegedly bear-sprayed and robbed by six teens in Kerrisdale
- On April 9, a teenage boy had a pellet gun held to his head by another teen outside the Vancouver Art Gallery
- On April 16, in two separate incidents, two teen boys were allegedly assaulted, held at knifepoint and robbed while surrounded by 15-20 teens in Kerrisdale
In the most recent case, on April 24, Addison said a 13-year-old from West Vancouver was lured to Stanley Park after befriending someone on social media. He was swarmed by a group of teens, who allegedly kicked, pepper-sprayed, and robbed him.
He was found walking alone and bloodied on the seawall after the incident, said Addison.
“It’s quite likely that we’re just scratching the surface with what we know and that the vast majority of these types of things are not being reported,” he said.
The Vancouver Police Department has set up a tip line for information about these incidents: (604) 717-0614.
‘It’s a grave concern’
According to Bonnie Leadbeater, a professor emeritus in the Psychology Department at the University of Victoria, these types of incidents were much more common 20 years ago.
“It’s unusual, and it’s become more unusual,” said Leadbeater. “It’s hard to know why we’re seeing this now, but obviously, it’s a grave concern. We may also have just become blasé.”
Leadbeater said incidents like those reported by police and posted in videos online may be connected to how teens have been affected by the COVID pandemic. Though, she said, it’s always about group dynamics, status, loyalty and dominance.
“It’s not just about bullying, it’s about assault,” said Leadbeater, “but it still has its basis in this group — in-group/out-group loyalty to some leader.”
She said for the victims, it’s always safer to come forward and make sure adults know what’s going on, so they can shut it down.
“These are traumatic — highly traumatic events for a young person. It’s hard to reclaim your safety if you’ve been assaulted in this way, and it will take some time,” said Leadbeater.
She said parents reading about incidents like this in the news can take the opportunity to check in with their kids to talk about what’s going on and how to deal with it.