A country mayor, in southern New South Wales, has apologised for suggesting women walk alone at night are wielding an 'invitation' to be taken advantage of.
Albury mayor Kevin Mack made the controversial statement earlier this week following the alleged rape of a 17-year-old girl as she walked home from work.
The teenager told police she was approached by a gang of men in Albury as she walked along a footbridge in the town's centre on Tuesday night.
She was dragged into bushes and threatened with a knife before being sexually assaulted, police said.
Councillor Mack sparked outrage when he said females walking alone are 'an invitation' to attackers.
"I always have encouraged women not to walk alone, to have someone with them at all times, because that in itself is an invitation for someone to take advantage of you," he told Prime News.
"That's something I would encourage people to think about; at night when it's dark, I'd encourage them to take someone with them, and don't walk alone.
"I don't think it's safe anywhere in this world.
"It's a salient reminder to us all not to take what we have for granted, and to make sure we have appropriate safety in place and look after ourselves.
"The way we look after ourselves is if you're going to run or cycle at night, make sure you have someone with you."
Many took to social media to express their outrage, with some accusing the mayor of 'victim blaming'.
Online feminist campaign group Fair Agenda also launched a petition, urging the mayor to apologise and retract his comments.
Kevin Mack offers "personal and sincere apology to the victim and family of the alleged vicious assault." @PRIME7Albury— Samantha Lowcock (@samanthalowcock) May 1, 2015
Councillor Mack has since apologised, citing 'poor choice of words'.
"The girl in question has not done anything wrong," he told ABC Goulburn Murray radio.
"She was doing what she would do every day and she's been the victim of a heinous crime and her callous attackers are responsible for that.
"I apologise without reservation. It was a poor choice of words and if I had my time back again I wouldn't have said it.
"It's not how I feel. I'm a staunch advocate for women's rights. My work speaks for that and I apologise for that."
Similar comments made by Homicide Squad Detective Inspector Michael Hughes in the wake of Masa Vukotic's murder also drew heavy criticism.
Ms Vukotic, 17, was stabbed to death as she walked home from school in a Doncaster park last month.
Christian Price, 31, has since been charged with her murder.
Detective Inspector Hughes warned women not to walk through parks alone and to be a "little bit more careful" following the brutal murder.
"I suggest to people, particularly females, they shouldn't be alone in parks - I'm sorry to say that, that is the case," he said.
"We just need to be a little bit more careful, a little bit more security-conscious and we as a public need to look after each other."
Information about the men's appearance and their computer-generated images have been released.
They have all been described as Caucasian, and between 180 and 185 centimetres tall.
The attack is being treated as isolated and random, and police are hoping witnesses will come forward.
"The incident occurred in the main street, in a busy area, at 6.20 at night, so some member of the public may have seen or heard something," Inspector Scott Russell told AAP on Wednesday.
He said the girl was traumatised, but has no lasting physical injuries.
The men may earlier have been loitering around a car dealership at the eastern end of Dean St, he said.
Morning news break – May 1