Police are investigating whether a serial sex attacker is stalking Wellington streets, with detectives examining links between as many as 12 assaults.

The man, if it is a lone offender, grabs and drags women from secluded areas or walkways in the city's centre with the intention of sexually assaulting them.

It is feared he may have been operating for at least seven years, with the earliest known case an attack on scientist Grace Leung on an unlit path near Massey University's Mt Cook campus in 2011.

Leung, then 27, told the Weekend Herald a man put his hand over her mouth and whispered: "Scream and I'll kill you," before pulling her towards a derelict building. She escaped after punching him the face.

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Looking back, Leung said she feels lucky. Detectives told her at least one of the other linked cases has ended in rape.

"But how f****d up is that?" said the now 33-year-old. "No one should have to feel lucky they only got threatened with murder. I mean, I was walking home. Women should be able to walk home."

READ MORE: 'Scream and I'll kill you': How one victim escaped a possible serial attacker

Attacks identified by the Weekend Herald are within a 2km radius of Leung's August 2011 assault. One was just nine months later, when a 19-year-old was grabbed from behind in May 2012, also at Massey University.

Two others were on a pathway nicknamed "rape alley" near Victoria University's Boyd Wilson field in April 2014. The latest was in January 2017, again at the Boyd Wilson field.

The Weekend Herald understands the links between the cases are behavioural, rather than forensic. Details of at least two attacks were sent to the criminal profiling unit for examination, but it was unknown what similarities were identified.

An identikit image recognised by Grace Leung as her possible attacker, released after two sexual assaults near Victoria University in 2014.
An identikit image recognised by Grace Leung as her possible attacker, released after two sexual assaults near Victoria University in 2014.

Detective Senior Sergeant Warwick McKee, from the Wellington criminal investigations bureau, refused to comment, but confirmed 12 attacks were under investigation.

It's understood little is known about the possible offender. Descriptions have varied, though this is not unusual in sex attack cases.

Leung told police her assailant was aged around 30, of medium height and build, and not very fit or strong. She described him as having light hair. However, a subsequent victim described an offender with dark hair.

An identikit photo released four years ago in relation to the two assaults at Boyd Wilson field showed a young man with light features, wearing a hoodie.

Leung recognised the man in that picture, and attempted to tell police she thought it was the same offender.

Grace Leung at the scene where she survived an attack by a male on a walkway at Massey University in Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Grace Leung at the scene where she survived an attack by a male on a walkway at Massey University in Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell

She believes police missed an opportunity to catch the man because her calls were effectively brushed off. After two weeks of trying, she managed to speak to a detective for only 15 seconds.

At the time she didn't complain, however after reading recent Herald reporting about the historic mishandling of sex crimes, she contacted the paper with her concerns.

"Reading the article made me think about what happened to me again. I was sure the guy wasn't caught. I thought, what if he's still out there?" she said.

When she requested her police file last month, Leung confirmed police had not recorded the call or re-opened her case despite the new information.

She was horrified to discover police believed a second woman was attacked by the same man in the same area just nine months later.

At a meeting with police in earlier this month, Leung was told there were in fact up to 12 cases where the attacker had a similar "modus operandi" to the perpetrator in her case, although there was not enough physical evidence to connect the attacks for sure.

Up to 12 attacks are thought to be linked to the same offender - including five near Massey and Victoria universities.
Up to 12 attacks are thought to be linked to the same offender - including five near Massey and Victoria universities.

"It's crazy," Leung said. "I try not to fill in any gaps. There's so much I don't know. But the fact that he got away with it ... it's just like why do we live in a society that's like that?"

She said police had apologised for failing to follow up her 2014 tip off, however she still felt disappointed that she wasn't taken seriously.

"But I guess it's the horrible but realistic way we have to look at it though - there's a lot that needs police attention and they probably don't have the resource."

However, Leung thought women had the right to know if there was an attacker at large.

Private investigator Tim McKinnel said, while he couldn't comment on specific details, there was a critical public safety issue.

"There's an argument that police might not want to cause alarm but if done in a careful and balanced way there's a benefit in letting public know - both in terms of public safety and collection of evidence."

Private investigator Tim McKinnel says there are almost always unreported attacks in serial predator cases. Photo/File
Private investigator Tim McKinnel says there are almost always unreported attacks in serial predator cases. Photo/File

McKinnel said in any serial rape cases, it was likely there was a number of unreported attacks, and having information public might lead to reports of suspicious activity or near misses.

Detectives said anyone who had information they might be interested was welcome to contact them on the Crimestoppers line: 0800 555 111.

SEXUAL ABUSE OR ASSAULTS - WHERE TO GET HELP:

The Safe to talk sexual harm helpline is available free 24/7:

• Call 0800 044 334
• Text 4334
• Email support@safetotalk.nz
• Resources, info and webchat atwww.safetotalk.nz

If it's an emergency and you feel that you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

You can also visit the police website for information about reporting sexual crime. http://www.police.govt.nz/advice/victims/victims-rape-or-sexual-assault