AN attempted sexual assault on a 17-year-old teenager in Portadown on Wednesday morning has sparked growing fears for women's safety in the area.

The young woman was walking along a pathway in Lynden Gate Park, Ballyhannon around 7.30am when she was approached by a man from behind who forced her to the ground.

It is believed he proceeded to kneel on top of the teenager before exposing himself.

The attacker, who is described as being in his late teens or early twenties, only fled the scene when a woman approached the pathway and witnessed the struggle. He fled in the direction of Killicomaine estate.

The attack has raised widespread concern within the community, as it comes just weeks after two other incidents - of a similar nature - occurred in the area. The first incident involved a teenager who was attacked as she walked along a pathway - known locally as ‘Tech Lane' - close to the regional college and Craigavon Senior High, in mid-December.

The second incident occurred just days later when a woman, aged in her 40s, was walking close to the Watson Centre when a man repeatedly exposed himself to her.

It is understood that both incidents, which happened around 7.30am, were reported to police. The Portadown Times contacted the PSNI on two occasions to inquire if officers were investigating a possible link to all three incidents. However, the paper failed to receive a response.

Janet Hart, chairperson of Killicomaine Residents' Association, urged teenagers and students not to walk unaccompanied in the area.

"This person needs to be caught and as soon as possible before he gets a hold of another woman. Girls in particular should not be walking to school on their own," she said. "The whole community in Ballyhannon; community groups, youth workers, schools, as far as I am aware, have been informed by the police of what has been happening."

Upper Bann DUP MLA Sydney Anderson appealed for anyone with information to go to the police.

He said, "This was a very serious and shocking incident. Far too often in the past the courts have been far lenient when it comes to sexual assault. That failure to properly dispense an adequate sentence serves as no deterrent to this kind of criminal.

"I would appeal to anyone in the area who has any information - no matter how insignificant it might appear at first - to go immediately to the police. We need to bring the perpetrator to justice."

Police are appealing to anyone with information to contact CID in Lurgan on 0845 600 8000. Alternatively, information can be passed via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.