CANAAN — A bicycle ride to raise public awareness about sexual assault is set for Saturday on rural roads in central Maine, including Whitten Road in Canaan, where a woman was attacked July 7.
Event organizer Christine Nichols, 43, of Winslow, said the ride is intended to show support for the 53-year-old victim of the Canaan attack, who was dragged off her bicycle and sexually assaulted by two men on a Sunday afternoon.
The men reportedly fled in a motor vehicle. The victim was treated and released from Redington-Fairview General Hospital in Skowhegan.
“I’m an avid cyclist and runner and regularly bike on very rural roads in Maine, usually by myself,” Nichols said Wednesday. “When this incident happened, it creates a lot of fear. It makes you scared.
“We love Maine’s rural roads and want to combat the fear this heinous crime has created with a sense of solidarity and community and to support this woman. Her life has been changed forever.”
The ride is set to begin at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Fedco Trees outlet at 213 Hinckley Road in Clinton.
There will be two courses for riders. One runs six miles out and six miles back, with an escort from one of the group leaders. The other will run 35 miles through Clinton, Canaan, Benton and Fairfield, then finish where it began.
No one has been charged in the Canaan assault, and the investigation by Maine State Police remains open.
Donna Strickler, executive director of Sexual Assault Crisis and Support Center, which serves Somerset and Kennebec counties, said it is rare for a sexual assault to be committed by a stranger.
“Statistically that number is very low,” Strickler said from the center’s office in Winthrop. “Based on our own statistics, over 80 percent of those that we have served, the sexual assault happened by somebody they know.”
The agency receives more than 1,500 calls a year to its support hotline serving the two counties.
Strickler said it is always frightening when someone is assaulted sexually, whether by someone they know or not. She said the Canaan incident brings to light the fear that comes from that kind of crime.
According to a Maine crime report released in May, there were 368 forcible rapes reported in 2012, down 5.9 percent from the previous year. The report notes that, unlike other violent crimes, forcible rape often goes unreported.
State Department of Public Safety spokesman Steve McCausland said the statistics compiled in the uniform crime report are not broken down to identify the attacker as someone who is known or not known to the victim.
Nichols said she is calling the ride “Keep Riding Our Roads” and has established a Facebook page with the same name.
She said the ride Saturday will not be competitive in any way. Participants will all stay together and can peddle for the entire 35 miles or just part of the route.
“They should bring something to drink and eat and just come out for a beautiful ride,” she said.
Doug Harlow — 612-2367