News Local

Bradford woman fights back after sex assault

By Miriam King, Bradford Times

(Fotolia)

(Fotolia)

BRADFORD -- It was a bitterly cold December afternoon.

Adriana McNeill Salinas had just run into the Walmart in Bradford, and was headed back to her car, bundled up in a winter coat. Before she reached her vehicle, she was sexually assaulted -- violently grabbed from behind by a stranger.

Her assailant then just walked off, as if nothing had happened, as if he hadn't just grabbed her crotch.

"I right away thought, 'He's used to doing this.' That's why I reacted the way I did," said McNeill Salinas.

What she did was follow the man through the parking lot, yelling at him to "turn around," and asking him, "Why? Why did you do that? What right do you have?"

She didn't swear; she didn't push or hit. She just followed the man, yelling at him to turn around and "show me your face" and, when he did, snapping a photo with her cellphone "so I could show the cops."

She did more.

"I decided, 'I am not going to let him go,'" she recalled.

She got into her own car, called 911 to alert police, and followed her assailant, keeping the police informed of his location until he could be arrested.

Why was McNeill Salinas so determined to ensure the man was captured?

"I was thinking this could have been my daughter. This could have been my sister, my mother... Who knows how many times he's done this?" she said.

She admitted she was afraid when the man did stop and turn toward her. What if he attacked?

"I really risked my life for others -- my daughters, my sisters, any woman in Bradford," she said, but added it was important to her to stand up and take action.

"We've got to stop sex assaults. We've got to make people more aware," McNeill Salinas said. "I want people to speak up... We are in a time right now (of) racist people, toxic people, people who judge by skin colour, people who are vindictive -- we have to stop that."

McNeill Salinas did more than help police make an arrest. She shared her story and the photo of the suspect on social media -- letting people know what could and did happen "in Bradford, in the Walmart plaza, in the middle of the afternoon."

The response was overwhelming. A number of people identified the suspect as a man who had been haunting local stores and restaurants, especially when high-school students were at lunch.

And a woman who had been sexually assaulted by the same suspect at Walmart earlier in the day contacted police, leading to a second charge.

The suspect, a 27-year-old man from Brampton, was in court last month and pleaded guilty.

McNeill Salinas was given the option of appearing in court, and although it was difficult, she decided to testify.

"I need to see him. I need him to know I am here, I am strong ... We cannot let this go. He still needs help," she said, noting the man was identified as a paranoid schizophrenic, who was not on medication. And she wanted the suspect to know, "I am not afraid of you. Be a proper human being to society."

Even though he stared at her in court, an apparent attempt at intimidation, she told her story clearly.

The man was given two years' probation, will receive psychiatric help and has to check in with police every week. He was also ordered to provide a DNA sample and was banned from Walmart stores.

"I feel I did something for society," McNeill Salinas said. "Now police know who he is."

That's not to say she's unmarked by the assault.

"Even though I'm a strong person, I'm still a little paranoid," she admitted.

She checks her surroundings, and doesn't go to Walmart alone.

"I'm looking. I'm still looking. Because when that happens to you, it's different than in the movies... I keep reliving the moment."

She doesn't suggest everyone should confront an assailant -- "What if? He might have had a knife; he might have hit or pushed," she said -- but she urges victims, "If you're going through the same situation, don't be quiet. Speak up. Deal with it and speak up. Tell someone."

And be aware.

"We have to be aware of surroundings," McNeill Salinas said, adding young women and young men should be aware of interactions with people in positions of trust, and not be governed by fear. "If you feel something isn't right, speak up. Speak up and defend yourself.

"I did it. You can... You can be a brave person to help others."

"It's not typical, what she did," said South Simcoe Police Const. Krystal MacLeod. "Every sexual-assault victim will behave in a different way. We don't encourage victims to go after attackers, because safety is paramount."

But if yelling and screaming attracts the attention of passersby and potential witnesses, and brings help, it's appropriate -- as is self-defence, as long as it doesn't provoke the attacker.

"It's really a case-by-case scenario," MacLeod said.

MacLeod encourages women to be aware "and always call us. Never hesitate to contact police, even if it's just something suspicious."

Call the non-emergency number to report suspicious behaviour, "but if it's something that needs attention immediately, and someone's safety is at risk, definitely call 911."

MacLeod noted not everyone is comfortable taking an active role, like McNeill Salinas did. That's what the police are for, she said.

"There are investigative steps we can take to find the suspects."

mking@postmedia.com