More than 1000 people walked Whangarei's Hatea Loop last night in a show of solidarity for a young woman who was subject to a vicious sexual attack on Friday while on her morning jog.
"That could have been me," was a sentiment echoed by many of yesterday's female walkers.
The Reclaim Our Loop rally was organised by 10 mothers who run the track regularly, with the aim of making the space feel safe again and to raise money for the victim, in her early 20s, who was dragged off the Loop at 6.30am on Friday and driven back to a house where she was sexually assaulted.
She was left badly injured in central Whangarei about an hour later. The man allegedly responsible was arrested just before 1pm on Friday.
One of the organisers of yesterday's dusk walk, Jane Frazerhurst, said many women around Whangarei were left thinking "that could have been me" following the attack.
The march was to show "support and strength in numbers".
"[On Friday] we were planning our run for the next day and one of the girls said, 'I don't want to do the Loop'. I thought, that's not right. We shouldn't be scared to go out and run in our own community."
A tearful Mayor Sheryl Mai told the crowd gathered around the Canopy Bridge that she was "incredibly proud" of the huge community turnout. "The incident that happened on Friday is not who we are. This is who we are," she said.
Mum Sheryll Edlington walked with 16-year-old daughter Olivia, a twice-weekly ritual for the pair. "It's very, very frightening," Sheryll said. "There's disbelief that someone could do that to someone else."
They said last night's event had helped them come to terms with the "tragic" attack.
"It's amazing ... There's such a cool feeling of solidarity," Sheryll said after the walk.
On Saturday morning a 40-year-old Whangarei man appeared before a Justice of the Peace in the Whangarei District Court charged with sexual violation, kidnapping with intent to have sexual intercourse, and causing grievous bodily harm with intent.
The man was accused of going to the Riverside Drive entrance to the Loop Walkway about 6.30am and grabbing a woman jogger, bundling her into a vehicle and taking her to a city address. He allegedly sexually violated and seriously assaulted her before dumping her in a central city street. A member of the public found her and called emergency services just before 7.30am.
The man was granted interim name suppression and is in custody until he reappears on May 9. No application for bail was made.
Police have again called on the public for information about a blue Nissan Serena people-mover with tinted windows and silver trim below the door line that was in Whangarei in the days leading up to this attack.
For more articles from this region, go to Northern Advocate