Note to women in the South Park Slope and surrounding Brooklyn: You might want to think twice before wearing shorts or skirts when you walk home alone at night.
That’s the message some women say police officers are spreading as they step up patrols in the area in response to at least 10 unsolved sexual attacks that have taken place since March.
In a neighborhood with a reputation for liberal and feminist tendencies, the message is, as to be expected, not going over so well.
Lauren, a South Slope resident, was walking home three blocks from the gym on Monday when she was stopped.
The 25-year-old, who did not want her last name to be used, was wearing shorts and a T-shirt when she claims a police officer asked if she would stop and talk to him. He also stopped two other women wearing dresses.
According to Lauren, the officer asked if they knew what was going on in the neighborhood. When they answered in the affirmative, he asked if they knew what the guy was looking for.
“He pointed at my outfit and said, ‘Don’t you think your shorts are a little short?'” she recalled. “He pointed at their dresses and said they were showing a lot of skin.”
He said that such clothing could make the suspect think he had “easy access,” said Lauren.
She said the officer explained that “you’re exactly the kind of girl this guy is targeting.”
Asked whether officers were warning women against wearing shorts or skirts, the New York City Police Department responded in no time.
“Officers are not telling women what not to wear—there’s a TV series that does that,” quipped Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne in an email. “They are simply pointing out that as part of the pattern involving one or more men that the assailant(s) have targeted women wearing skirts.”
Note to the NYPD: It should be apparent by now that commenting on women’s clothing is not a good idea, no matter how good the intention.
So it should come as no surprise that a grass-roots group formed in the wake of the attacks, Safe Slope, has criticized this alleged tactic—among other things—in an open letter posted on its website and Facebook page.
Jessica Silk, one of Safe Slope’s founders, called such interaction with police “completely inappropriate.”
“There have been reports that the women attacked were all wearing skirts,” she said. “Unfortunately this might be a common link between the women that were attacked but the message shouldn’t be that you shouldn’t wear a skirt. The message should be that, ‘Here are ways that you can protect yourself.'”
Lauren said she’s been surprised by the male responses to the incident—including from her own father. She said the consensus among men is that while it was inappropriate for the officer to broach such a topic, they all think he has a point.
“I completely disagree,” she said. “Where do you draw the line? I can’t wear shorts? Besides the fact that I wasn’t wearing anything that was inappropriate or provocative….I don’t think that should be part of the problem. At all.”
Lauren said she thanked the officer for patrolling the area but said she would prefer that he focus on apprehending the suspects, rather than the dressing choices of women.
To be fair, the police have clearly stepped up their presence in the South Slope, Greenwood Heights and Sunset Park area in recent weeks.
This week, police cars with their lights flashing were stationed at nearly every other block on Fourth Avenue outside of the Prospect Avenue subway station.
Some think the attention has become alarmist. Most of the assaults were attempts that included groping or grabbing, and didn’t involve weapons. (There was one rape in Sunset Park, in May.)
Sketches of potential suspects are posted at local businesses, and on a recent day Jay “Rocket” Ruiz handed out Police Department “wanted” alerts for three men accused of attempted rape.
Mr. Ruiz (he said his name is a stage name) is a civilian who recently started the Brooklyn Bike Patrol, a volunteer group that escorts people who are afraid to walk home from 11 area subway stations. He said he’s been getting more than a dozen calls on some nights. He said the local precinct screens all volunteers to ensure they don’t have criminal records.
“I hate to see women getting attacked, that’s one of the most cowardly acts anyone can do,” said Mr. Ruiz. “We just want to get people home safe.”
Wearing a fluorescent yellow T-shirt, Mr. Ruiz hollered, “Brooklyn Bike Patrol,” “Free escorts home,” and “Get home safe.”
Meanwhile, Safe Slope started its own pilot program on Thursday night, making available volunteers to escort people home. And two local City Council members have funded free one-day self-defense workshops in the area.
The Center for Anti-Violence Education said it saw more than 80 women in three such workshops and two more are planned, including bilingual classes in Sunset Park, said Tracy Hobson, the center’s executive director.
Many women who have taken the one-day course say they are considering enrolling in additional classes. “You know, it’s gotten scary, quite honestly,” said Shannon Sharpe, a 33-year-old who lives a block from where the first attack took place in March. “I just felt like I needed to be able to defend myself.”
Ms. Sharpe says she’s seen women at local bars call a car service to drive them as few as two blocks.
She, like other women, has had to change her routine due to safety concerns. She said she’s stopped wearing high heels so often because it’s harder to run in them. But she said she hasn’t changed her clothing, because she doesn’t normally wear mini-dresses or anything particularly sexy. “If I did, then maybe I’d be more conscious of that,” she said.
“It’s frustrating because there’s probably something true to that,” she said, referring to a certain type of clothing attracting sexual assailants.
Not everyone is scared.
Ronnie Yoked, a 29-year-old resident, stopped to talk to Mr. Ruiz this week as he handed out police alerts.
Ms. Yoked said she hopes she runs into the man—or men.
“I have my black belt in karate,” she said. “They’re all short dudes. I’m waiting for one of them to try to get me.”
Let’s hope the police get them first.
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