The arrest of 33-year-old Sofyan Boalag was big news in St. John’s from the moment the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary announced Monday night that a man had been apprehended in connection with the sexual assault of a woman leaving the downtown area the night before.
Users of social media websites shared news of the arrest with friends, as they had done with earlier stories published online concerning recent cases of sexual assault involving female victims.
Prior to Boalag’s arrest, the RNC had warned that women walking alone at night may have been at increased risk.
When the Sunday morning assault was first reported, the RNC said it was considering the possibility it was linked to a pair of recent incidents involving assaults in the same general area. Boalag has not been charged in relation to either of those prior incidents.
Standing on George Street beside a bronze statue, Tara Nicholls said if anything, attention paid to the recent reports of assault will help make the public more aware of the risks of walking at night in the downtown area.
“I’m sure (the risk) has always been there,” said Nicholls. “It could always be a possibility for anyone, at any time, but now that it’s in the public, it just makes the people that are coming downtown on the weekends more aware of their surroundings. This should be a thing that you should be thinking of any time. Even if it doesn’t happen, it should be in the back of your mind.”
The Telegram went to the George Street area early Wednesday evening to ask people about trying to stay safe when leaving the downtown area late at night.
Sam Melendy said he is glad to hear police have made an arrest in connection with the Sunday morning assault.
“I’m glad this guy is off the street, if it was him,” said Melendy, referring to the fact Boalag’s case is still before the court. “It’s something everyone has to be careful of. I know my friend the other day said that a couple of years ago, his girlfriend worked downtown, walked home and never worried about it. He doesn’t feel as comfortable about that now.”
Tracy Brenner was surprised to hear of the recent assaults involving people leaving the downtown area.
“Coming from Calgary, I could walk home at 3 a.m. and not worry about it,” she said. “And now I’m like, yeah, I’m going to get somebody to walk me to my car in the dark.”
Karen Smith says she feels no more fearful than she used to in light of recent events.
“I did hear that people who work in the bars here are getting walked to their cars by the bouncers and whatnot,” she said. “I don’t frequent here, and especially not at three or four in the morning. I’ve never felt concerned.”
A young woman passing through George Street with a friend on her way to a St. John’s IceCaps game said she would not be inclined to walk alone from the area late at night.
“Alone is probably not a good option,” said the woman, who did not want to give her name.
Melendy suggests it’s a good move to surround yourself with people you trust when heading downtown for drinks.
“Be sure to choose good company when you go out on a spree,” he said.