Recent Sexual Assaults in My Neighborhood

October 26, 2011  |  essays

Unless you’re up on the sexual assault news from random neighborhoods in the New York City area, you probably don’t know about this, but there have been more than a dozen sexual assaults and attempted assaults in my neighborhood and nearby in the past few months. Safe Slope.org has some info about what’s going on—I don’t know a ton of the details without looking them up again, though they have been covered on many of the big blogs, like Brokelyn and Gothamist.

I first heard about it not through the media or through word of mouth, but by seeing signs up at stores around my apartment, with things like, “WARNING! Sexual Assaults Are Happening In This Neighborhood. Protect Yourself.” And then messy things started happening, like the police told women who were walking in those neighborhoods in short skirts that they shouldn’t wear things like that.

I know. I know. I don’t even know what to say about that. And I probably don’t have to, because you probably know just what is wrong about it. I do too, it’s just that my anger and frustration bubbles up and makes me go “ARGH!” instead of having articulate things to say.

Slut Walk NYC happened shortly after that, and there were some speak outs in my neighborhood, but none of which I ended up attending, mostly because of timing and not because of my lack of interest. (I can’t do it all.) I hope this was spoken of frequently at those events.

Lately, more “Protect Yourself From Sexual Assault” posters have been showing up in this neighborhood as businesses, self-defense classes, and community organizers start creating protection and help around these assaults.

While I understand that these “Protect Yourself!” tactics are because we, the majority of us, feel helpless when faced with stories of assault, and what we can do is attempt to defend ourselves, since we have no control over what the perpetrators do—I still think things like that perpetuate rape culture. They teach us that we, the potential victims, need to be the ones who are on guard. We don’t do that with other types of crime, and sexual assault is about more than sex, it’s about power, and there is so much sexism, slut-shaming, and control of women’s bodies wrapped up in this one thing. It’s hard to even begin to untangle it all.

I walked past one outside of my gym a few days ago and had the urge to create a counter-poster, one that says something like this:

Ten rape prevention tips:

1. Don’t put drugs in women’s drinks.

2. When you see a woman walking by herself, leave her alone.

3. If you pull over to help a woman whose car has broken down, remember not to rape her.

4. If you are in an elevator and a woman gets in, don’t rape her.

5. When you encounter a woman who is asleep, the safest course of action is to not rape her.

6. Never creep into a woman’s home through an unlocked door or window, or spring out at her from between parked cars, or rape her.

7. Remember, people go to the laundry room to do their laundry. Do not attempt to molest someone who is alone in a laundry room.

8. Use the Buddy System! If it is inconvenient for you to stop yourself from raping women, ask a trusted friend to accompany you at all times.

9. Carry a rape whistle. If you find that you are about to rape someone, blow the whistle until someone comes to stop you.

10. Don’t forget: Honesty is the best policy. When asking a woman out on a date, don’t pretend that you are interested in her as a person; tell her straight up that you expect to be raping her later. If you don’t communicate your intentions, the woman may take it as a sign that you do not plan to rape her.

That’s reprinted from the blog Can You Relate … I’m not sure this is the original source of these, since this post is from May of this year and I’m pretty sure I saw a list just like this make the rounds a few years back, but it seems to be frequently referenced.

I know it’s not the answer. But I’m not sure what else I can create time to contribute to this current issue that is happening in my neighborhood, that scares me and my girlfriend when we walk home after dark (and it is getting darker earlier and earlier). Kristen and I keep talking about it, and often our conclusion is, we just have to put this out of our minds, because if we thought about it, we’d go nuts with worry. And that is a lousy way to live.

There are various groups doing good things, organizing bike escorts, safe walks home, dog patrols. Thank you, all of you who are doing that. I’m not doing much, but at least I can throw a post up here, tell you that I’ve been thinking about it, and ponder my own place in the healing of this huge cultural and societal wound.

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14 Comments


  1. It’s ridiculous. You’d think that I’d be immunized against the anger I feel encountering victim blaming surrounding sexual assaults, and yet, I just seem to get angrier and angrier. And you know, I might not get quite so offended if it was a common crime prevention strategy for ALL crimes. At least then it would be equitable!

    NO TRESSPASSING?

    instead, we could say:

    “Law Enforcement Officers are advising people to stay out of their privately owned property, as there is a rising number of poachers in the area who might accidentally shoot you.”

    DON’T DRINK AND DRIVE?

    “Please refrain from driving on city streets or walking on the sidewalks between the hours of 12-2. Driving during those times increase your risk of getting struck by an impaired driver returning from a bar.”

    SHOPLIFTERS WILL BE PROSECUTED?

    “Don’t own or sell nice things. It’s just an invitation to steal them. If you were simply born with nice things, be very, very careful to hide them. “

  2. While I totally agree about not shaming sluts, and blaming women for being raped, I still lock my house and car to prevent my stuff from being stolen. Because thieves are gonna thieve, assaulters are going to assault, and there’s nothing wrong with taking necessary precautions. Which naturally doesn’t include wearing long skirts and turtle necks (last I read, Arab women in head to toe burquas get raped, too).

  3. We’re apparently neighbors now.

    If it helps at all, I have seen a list like the Can You Relate list up in South Slope.

    The whole situation is extraordinarily enraging, as is the complete inability of anyone to figure out how many perpetrators are involved or, it seems, to actively do things to catch the perp(s) (because really, telling women what to wear and having an intense police presence on the streets in the first three hours after sunset is, at best, not solving it).

  4. I really loved that list about what potential rapists can do to prevent themselves from harming others. This situation is serious and makes me rageful. I was groped while I was walking up Sterling Pl to the Q from 5th ave after an OP event at Southpaw this summer around 2am. This was right around the time these shenanigans started. I didn’t report it. What could I have done to prevent it? Probably nothing. Though I wonder if this guy would have had it in him if I was with other people? I saw him walking towards me, and thought we’d just pass like two ships in the night like most folks do when walking down the street. It stunned me, and then I screamed/cursed at him and he ran away. Then I started crying and laughing, because it was a violation but it could have been seriously worse. UGH. Glad to hear that groups are doing good work escorting etc…

  5. Every time it’s on the news–which is sooo often around these parts–I wonder about how many more women are being attacked and aren’t reporting it. It is so frightening to consider how much higher the numbers are in actuality.

    That list made me say yes out loud.

  6. I’m not sure this tactic is only applied to sexual assault. I think most people would also be advised to lock doors and keep valuables out of sight to deter robbery, etc. I don’t think this necessarily constitutes victim blaming, although it certainly can in some contexts. And I think that that context is key. Assault prevention tips are practical, not moral guidelines, or at best they’re designed to be. The fact of the matter is that rape does happen, regardless of the moral message about it (although I think with a consistent moral message, it could be greatly reduced over time), and as a practical matter, vulnerable people should be given skills to deal with the very real possibility. The guidelines you give about not raping in the first place I think also serve a purpose in reframing the problem in its moral terms. I’d say go ahead and post that poster! But also recognize that, in terms of immediate practical circumstances, the others also have a place. I don’t think this is an either/or issue, and all too often I see it framed in those dualistic terms. Obviously, parts of prevention tips are rife with nasty, nasty gendered power dynamics (and not of the fun kinky variety), notably men policing female dress. These are never good.

  7. That list is from a campaign in the UK. There are posters that go with them.

  8. I am not in any way saying that people should not learn to defend themselves—absolutely, we all should. We should take self defense classes, make sure our bodies are strong, put ourselves in the most safest situations, be educated about things that happen, read *Always* by Nicola Griffith because it is genius. But the response to sexual assaults that happens is often more complicated than other assaults, since sexism in our culture runs so deep. The extreme presence of victim-blaming always bums me out.

    Sorry if I didn’t make that point clear enough in the post.

  9. I think this issue needs to be worked at from both sides. The problem is the abusers aren’t being educated as to why rape is bad. our culture tells people women are malleable and up for control. men are expected to be men & all we as women can do is try to protect ourselves from their lecherous attacks (not to say rape only effects women, but we are generally the targets of these PSAs)

    here’s the image that was floating around facebook
    http://tinypic.com/view.php?pic=s5wuic&s=5

  10. It pisses me off because it’s inaccurate. I work with young people who sexually abuse others and all the research is quite blindingly clear on how sexual offending comes about i.e. The blocks that most people have that prevent sexual offending, and the way that these blocks are damaged in people who do sexually harm others. If addressing it was as simple as wearing a long skirt, my caseload would be much easier to manage

  11. And to boot, it is practically impossible to get a concealed carry license in NYC (unless you are a politician, person with connections/power, etc).

  12. Victim-blaming is such a saddening thing.
    Unfortunately people have to be safe, smart, and prepared in the world. I wish people were able to experience life vulnerably. I wish we could walk around at night, alone and nude, without concern for our safety (for example). But instead, the vulnerable get attacked.

    Important post. Thanks. xoxo

  13. I taught women’s self defense for five years in the UK. I distilled a lot of what I know in the novel Always.

    Thanks, Sinclair, for the shout out. This curbing/behavioral mod of the targets instead of the perpetrators really pisses me off.

  14. “Unless you’re up on the sexual assault news from random neighborhoods in the New York City area, you probably don’t know about this…”

    Actually, this sentence served as a bit of a wake-up call for me regarding my news reading habits, since I’ve been following this story closely. Granted, I’m a NY native, but I live in freakin’ Arizona now, and lord knows there’s enough crazy going on here…

    THAT said, I hope you and Kristen stay safe– not in that “obviously it’s YOUR job to keep someone ELSE from assaulting you” way, but in that “I hope you don’t run across trouble” way.

    Have you seen this, btw? http://bit.ly/vVRGPF

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