Sunday, October 23, 2011
What the Brooklyn sex attacks tell us
October 23, 2011
Over the last two months, the number of reported cases involving women that have been groped or fondled in public places has increased dramatically in New York City.
Some have referred to this as a rising crime wave -- but that may not be the case. Instead, the increase may be because more women are coming forward, no longer willing to tolerate the casual indignities with which some men think they can get away.
We can see from other large metropolitan cities that groping is a common crime.
In Tokyo, a 2005 estimate suggested that by age 30, well over 60% of women had been forcibly touched while riding on crowded trains and subways or at transit stations throughout the city.
Victims, some as young as 9, would shout “chikan,” Japanese for molester.
The persistence of the chikan problem, and the criminal subculture that has developed, actually lead to the development of female-only railroad cars so that women can travel unmolested.
In the United States, there is a long history of inappropriate and forcible touching -- men slapping female waitresses on the behind, pinning and groping women at bars or in nightclubs, or rubbing up against them on crowded public transportation or during sporting events.
Until recently in New York, however, these crimes were rarely reported by victims. When reported, they often went uninvestigated by law enforcement. As a result, many female victims considered it a nearly unavoidable fact of everyday life.
Gropers are motivated by the same thing as any other sex offender: power.
They want to elicit a response from their victim that may include a mixture of shock, shame, fear or perhaps silent humiliation. When the crime is not reported, or when police do not take the time to investigate, they are emboldened.
In NYC, public and police attitudes began to change after the 2000 Puerto Rican Day Parade -- when several dozen women and girls said they were trapped, sexually taunted, groped and robbed by different groups of men. Responding to public outcry, forcible- touching laws were adopted to make it clear that this kind of behavior is an intolerable crime. These laws raised awareness of the problem and gave police a better tool for making arrests.
Over the last couple of years, meanwhile, there has been the scandal brought to light by Brooklyn police Officer Adrian Schoolcraft. He blew the whistle on the NYPD’s intentional manipulation of sex-crimes reports by responding officers to downgrade or misclassify sex offenses.
Since that time, new policies have been put into place to ensure more accurate reporting, and to require the response of a sex-crimes detective to any complaint of a sexual assault -- even misdemeanors.
And recently, in the wake of widespread media reporting on multiple attacks by a possible serial groper in Brooklyn, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly made a public plea to any and all victims: Come forward and report the crime.
Websites, meanwhile, chronicle the efforts of women to catalog the perverts, publicly shaming subways gropers by taking cellphone pictures of them and posting them online.
These events have combined to drag the reality of American chikan into more full public view.
Law enforcement has a number of responsibilities here. Their first is to properly educate responding officers regarding the potential for serial gropers of any kind to escalate and become more sexually violent.
Complaints should be not casually dismissed because they don’t seem like that big of a deal, or because they lack the appeal of a felony charge.
Experienced investigators know that some gropers and peepers are just practicing and fantasizing in order to gain confidence with their approach. They do this over and over, until they are ready for more serious sexual assaults.
It’s always disturbing to hear about any crime. But if the recent spate of fondling cases means that victims are fighting back -- and the police are taking this crime more seriously -- it will hopefully lead to a city where gropers understand they can’t get away with it.
Brent E. Turvey, MS is a forensic scientist and criminal profiler in private practice. He is the co-author, with retired NYPD Detective John Savino, of the "Rape Investigation Handbook" (Elsevier Science, 2011). Mr. Turvey thanks his co-author for advice on this article.