Amid the general good news about declining crime statistics in New York City last year was one stat that trended the wrong way: misdemeanor sex crimes, which includes groping, rose 9.3 percent. And although rapes were down by one, to 1,417, there were a number of them at the end of the year.
On Saturday women marched through the city—and across the country—to celebrate their newfound voice on matters of sexual transgressions, thanks to the #metoo movement. So NYCityLens thought the moment was right to ask New York City women a couple of questions: Do you feel safe in the city? and What do you do to make yourself feel safe? Here is what we learned:
Don’t Even Think About It
Though Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office widely celebrated a reduction in violent crimes, such as shootings and homicides, at the end of last year, reports of misdemeanor sex crimes, such as public groping, increased by 9.3 percent from 2016-2017, according to city statistics.
The statistics didn’t seem to phase Dwanna Hayden, a 37-year old R+B singer from Brooklyn Heights. She’s a New Yorker first, she said, and that means she can be tough. “I also don’t feel like anyone’s going to assault me — if someone comes up to me I’ll just kick them in the balls,” Hayden said. –-Tulika Bose
Stay Safe and Don’t Let Them Intimidate You
On a brisk, clear morning on 149th street in Port Morris in the Bronx, Tezhane Daniels, 21, took a break from her work as a traffic attendant for the NYPD, at a quiet, brightly lit Dunkin Donuts. Sitting by herself, she was wrapped up for the 34-degree temperatures.
“People hate me, but they also love me,” she said. But she added, as a female, she didn’t think people felt intimidated by her even if she is an NYPD officer. “I do my job,” she said. “I don’t ever bother people, if they don’t bother me.”
As a keen news watcher, Daniels, however, was aware of recent crime statistics about New York that showed the numbers of sexual assaults had increased. She said that she thinks the men that commit these assaults “try to use any type of avenue, whether it’s age, authority, whatever,” to target women who “won’t fight back.”
She had a few tips for her fellow women in the Bronx, however, on how to stay safe: don’t carry bags (“the less baggage, the easier it is to fight back”) and make sure that at night, somebody knows “where you’re at and where you’re going from.” –Maea Buhre
Using a Phone as a Weapon, but Scared Anyway
Two days before Christmas, Farjana Boby was walking down the alley outside of the Queens Shopping Center in Elmhurst when two men their mid twenties approached her from behind, saying “We are lost, can you show me how to get to Manhattan?”
It was 11:30 p.m. and there was nobody on the street. The girlfriend she had been walking with was on her phone, several blocks ahead.
Boby pulled out the map on her own phone and showed the two where to take the subway. “I trusted them, sometimes people need help,” she said. Then they stepped in front of her and blocked her from leaving.
Boby held up her phone and screamed that she would call 911. The men let her go.
The phone is Boby’s weapon. “If my phone is with me then I feel safe,” she said. “I can record and call the police.”
But the phone is not much help at work. Boby is a 29-year-old make-up artist working 10 hours a day at the Queens Shopping Center mall, a 20-minute walk from where she lives. A single mother with a 13-year-old son, she said she is more scared of harassment from teenage boys at the mall than of a sexual assault attempt at night.
Every day, she said, boys come to her salon, screaming, commenting on her looks, and snapping photos and videos. “If they put it online, if it goes viral,” Boby said. “That is the most scary thing.” Her salon is in an open area with no walls or doors, and it is on the first floor by the elevator. So she is a frequent target. She calls security and waits in agitation.
“After school time is the worst,” she said. “In the mall it does not matter if it’s night or day time. When they come, you are scared.” —Daphne Zhang
Better to be Cautious
Shanti Arias always makes sure to get all her errands done in the morning, before her 9-year-old daughter gets out from school. Not only so that she can be home for her when she gets back, but also so that she doesn’t have to be out in the dark. So in her wheelchair even on a frigid morning, she moves around the bustling area surrounding 125th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue in Harlem, where she lives.
Arias, 37, said she grew up in the Bronx but moved to Harlem seven years ago. A sexual assault survivor, she says she feels safer in Harlem than she did in the Bronx, but her experience took a toll on her, and she admits she has modified her habits.
“I’m more aware of my surroundings than I was years ago. I know what to look for. I try not to do the same thing every day. I try to go different directions,” she said.
But she admits, in her new neighborhood there are more people, so she feels a bit safer.”
When Arias and her daughter are out, she says, people often look at them because of her wheelchair. But staring at someone because you want to do something to them is different, she thinks. And she says she can tell the difference.
“You can’t always have that mentality that someone’s gonna hurt you,” she said. “But you have to have that mentality that someone could.” — Cecilia Butini
Your Mindset Can Make a Difference
Shana Bowman, 40, commutes from Queens to Harlem every day, where she works as a drug and alcohol counselor. Despite rising reports of sexual assault, she says she feels safe in Harlem — and attributes that safety to her peaceful lifestyle.
“I don’t hurt people, I don’t kill animals, I try to live that type of life so usually what comes back to me is positive,” she said.
But she confesses her current mentality is different from the way she was in her earlier years. “I used to fight and beat people up,” she said. “I used to be mad and angry, and therefore I didn’t feel safe because it was always coming back to me.”
As she aged and especially after she had a son at age 23, she says, she changed her mindset.
“When he was growing up, I started realizing I’ve got to change so that he can have a positive role model,” she said. –Raishad Hardnett
Feeling Familiar and Safe
Jessica Corrie has run her small business at the intersection of Jay and Willoughby streets in downtown Brooklyn for a year and a half. She organizes stacks of The New York Times, the Daily News, the Post and other tabloids on two tan upside-down crates before sitting down on a green one. She leans back on the elevator shaft that services the Jay Street–MetroTech station behind her and waits.
A man nearby yells angrily into his phone. Half a dozen police officers huddle at the entrance to the station. Thousands of people from all walks of life pass Corrie by every day, but even as she sits alone on a corner in the most populous city in the country, Corrie said she feels safe.
In 2017, New York City saw a 9 percent uptick in misdemeanor sexual crimes. Some women opt to carry pocket knives or pepper spray, but Corrie, who is 39 and from East New York, said she has never felt the need. Instead, she protects herself by making friends of those around her.
Corrie’s corner features a pizzeria, a podiatrist, and a beauty salon. She knows them all. Several cell carriers like Verizon, Cricket, and Sprint populate the storefronts down the street. Those too. “I know the local store owners,” she said. “And I’m friendly with all the homeless people so they don’t scare me.”
Corrie also has a few regulars who frequent her pop-up newsstand. One man brought her a carton of cigarettes he had purchased on her behalf, and she gave him a smoke in return. Another stopped to chat when business was slow. In a city of more than 8 million, Corrie seemed at ease. “It’s familiar,” she said with a smile. —Angie Wang
Feeling Uncomfortable and Unsafe
Every two minutes someone in the United States is sexually assaulted, according to nownyc.org. Little wonder that many women in New York City in random interviews, said they do not feel safe here.
Jennifer Alvarez, a 28-year-old woman that works in Brooklyn as a dental assistant doesn’t think that’s an exaggeration. “I don’t feel safe in New York,” she said, adding that when she walks the streets of New York, men growl, whistle, and say inappropriate comments to her. Men are always staring, she said, and it makes her feel unsafe and extremely uncomfortable.
One days, she said, while she was walking home from work, a man in a truck stopped and yelled to her as she crossed the street. The guy then pulled up next to her, she added, and asked her for her number. She repeatedly told him that she was dating someone and that she wasn’t interested. “At that moment I didn’t know what to do,” Alvarez says.
Alvarez says she would like to carry a gun for protection, but because the gun laws in New York are so strict, she chooses not to carry one. — Tiana Hunt
No Fear in Harlem
When Caron Cherry was 8 years old, she remembers seeing an old lady’s purse get snatched out of her hand. That was the only time in her 30 years of life, she says, that she has felt unsafe in the streets of Harlem, where she was born and raised.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, it’s about a 9,” said Cherry, who works at the Grant Day Care Center on Amsterdam Avenue. “Even in the 90s, Harlem was pretty safe.”
Though Cherry hears a lot of unsettling stories on the news about how dangerous her neighborhood is, she thinks it’s all “sensationalism.”
She used to carry pepper spray, but she says she threw it out a few years ago because she never had to use it.
“I will say that my mom gets worried sometimes,” Cherry added. “She gets afraid when people are looking at her as she’s coming out of the bank.” — Jennifer Kang
An Everyday Worry
Mariama Gumaneh, 29, went to the home of a tailor to get a dress made recently. She remembers feeling excited about her new dress—she’d picked out the material herself, and it was expensive. The tailor, a man recommended by her friend, was friendly as he took out his measuring tape.
“As he measured me, he tried to touch my private parts,” said Gumaneh. “I felt so violated, and I immediately backed away and tried to leave.”
The situation escalated, and the tailor started screaming and yelling, she said. When he refused to let her go without charging a fee, Gumaneh called the police.
“The police make you feel like it’s your fault,” she said. “They didn’t do anything, and they didn’t arrest him. They said it would just be ‘he said, she said.’”
Since that incident, Gumaneh has lost faith in the police and always measures herself before getting clothes made. She says she doesn’t even feel safe at work.
At the store she owns on 158th Street and Melrose Avenue in the South Bronx, Gumaneh has dealt with advances and rude remarks from men, some drunk, some not
“They don’t see my shape, my hair,” she said. “They violate you no matter what,” she said.
“I try to cover up more so I don’t have to deal with it, but no, it’s still the same nonsense,” she added. “I thank God everyday when ever I get to my building and when I get to work. It’s an everyday worry, and it’s that way for every woman.” – Belle Lin
Carry Pepper Spray and Avoid Elevators
Even though the number of sexual assaults in the southern area of the Bronx protected by the 40th precinct of the New York Police Department, is next to nil in the first three weeks of the year, many women who work or live here say they still take necessary precautions to avoid what they perceive as possible threats.
“You have to take care of yourself, day and night,” says in Spanish Adalisa Gonzalez, 42, a peanut-seller from the Dominican Republic, on the corner of 3rd Avenue and 149th Street from the Dominican Republic. “Thank God, nothing has ever happened to me or someone I know.”
In random interviews, many women in the area said they took different measures, like carrying pepper spray in their purse, like Natasha Ramales, 32. “I got it three years ago,” she says, “but never had to use it.”
Mary Martinez, 28, from Honduras, who said she doesn’t carry a weapon of any kind, says she simply avoids close spaces where she can feel unsafe. “I never ride elevators with men,” she said. “I wait until I’m alone or there are more women around.” –Nicolas Lupo
Despite the fact that rape and sexual assault can happen to anyone at any time—and wearing anything, from a track suit to a winter coat—the idea of “revealing clothing” remains a topic of conversation. According to many psychologists and sociologists, pointing to clothing is a form of “victim-blaming.”
But not everyone agrees. “I think a lot of women wear really open and revealing clothing,” Marzia Prya, a first-year college student at LaGuardia Community College said. “Because of this, men look at them and feel like they’re exotic, so they feel like they can do certain things to them. Women should be covered at all times.”
Prya, who is of Bangladeshi descent, said her reasoning stems from her cultural belief as a woman from South Asia. And due to her upbringing and cultural beliefs, she says she urges women to cover up to prevent assault.
Prya believes that revealing clothing is a contributing factor to the increased risk of sexual assaults on campus, though she admits she’s never personally experienced sexual assault, nor does she know anyone who has. According to reports, one in five female college students are assaulted during their college years.
Prya also said she thinks some women on college campuses spend too much time alone with men, putting themselves in dangerous environments, increasing this risk as well. “If you’re alone with a guy, I don’t think you should show your body,” she said. “You just shouldn’t wear certain things like that around men, or put yourself in that position.” — Faith Woodard
Cornered on the Train
Andreina Grullon, 26, a spa receptionist in Williamsburg, recalls being sexually assaulted on a packed subway train on her way to work. She was standing in the middle of the train when a man got directly behind her.
Though Grullon kept trying to move up the man kept moving up with her. With space being limited she had nowhere to go. She stood there as the man had his body up against the back of hers. “I felt his member on my ass, I had to turn around and tell him to stop.”
Grullon said he told her that he was there first and with no space available what did she want him to do? As the ride continued, she remembers the man getting sexually aroused. “I felt it getting bigger and I turned around again and told him to back up,” she said. “I even cursed at him.”
She then told him to take his penis off of her butt. Finally, the train stopped and he got off. “I was so mad, and when I get angry my eyes start to tear up,” Grullon said. Even with all the commotion between her and this stranger she remembers feeling alone. No one came to her defense or stepped in to say anything. It was only after the man got off that an older woman asked her if she was okay.
Because of this incident, Grullon is more conscious of how she stands on the train. “I don’t stand on the middle anymore,” she said. “I stand near the door or I try to sit now.” And she carries pepper spray. — Marvin Richards, Jr.
The Conversation Matters
As a community educator on sexual assault in Suffolk County, Alexa Laluaguerre has constantly been involved in the conversation about sexual transgressions. But since the #MeToo movement started in late September, a topic that was once whispered about behind closed doors has become audible and national.
And she is happy about it. “I think its really opened up the conversation,” Laluaguerre said. “And since it’s become public conversation, more people are aware and looking out for it.”
In a late December crime report in New York City, data mirrored a national trend that cities around the country are seeing – lower crime rates. But NYC’s report also showed an uptick in both sexual assault and misdemeanor sex crimes. It’s unclear if more assaults are happening or if more people are reporting the crimes, but the numbers contrast with the national trend. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network finds that since 1993, reports of assault have decreased by 63 percent nationally. In the last several years that number has stagnated.
Laluguerre is glad that the conversation includes both abuse from bosses and co-workers and others as well as assaults from strangers. “I personally feel safe while on the streets. When I’m out I make sure to pay attention to my surroundings, what’s going on,” Lluaguerre said. “I usually have someone with me. The buddy system works out for me.”
In her personal life, she is confident in her ability to spot abuse. She said that it is crucial to speak out and try to change the culture around sexual assault. At the end of the day, she is just happy that there is a conversation. — Taylor Romine
Harassed but Unafraid
Josephine Ahenkora has lived in the Bronx for more than 30 years. She moved here from Ghana, in West Africa, in the 80s and owns the Gold Coast Trading Company on E 156th St in the Bronx, an African Market that sells everything from traditional sweet treats to goat meat. An outgoing woman, and freely described her experience with harassment.
On two occasions, she said, she experienced non-consensual contact with men. The first was when she was newly married. She had been napping in the basement while her husband had friends over for a game night, she said, and was stirred from her sleep by cold hands on her face, and a cold kiss on the lips. She knew immediately that it wasn’t her husband. She fought the man off and screamed at the top of her lungs, and everyone came running. Her brothers and uncles roughed the man up a bit, she said, and then kicked him out. She said her husband was apologetic.
The second incident occurred during a party. A strange man cornered her and began trying to force a kiss on her as she was leaving the bathroom. Josephine says she was able to get away from the man before he could kiss her. She chose not to tell her husband in order to avoid a scene. She instead told him she wasn’t feeling well so they left the party early.
To feel safe, Josephine says she surrounds herself with her husband, brothers, and cousins–all males who she says have never betrayed her trust. She also says that she never walks alone at night, and always checks behind the curtains and closets when she’s home alone. She says she’s unafraid. If she should ever have to fight a man she will struggle to the end, she said, and make sure to leave marks on his skin. — Erewa Uku
Speak Up and Pay Attention
The fact that Wendy Rojas, 52, lives in a dangerous neighborhood in Far Rockaway makes her careful when it comes to visiting certain places by herself. She is a mental health consultant, though, and even though Rojas knows how to protect herself, she says that some of her patients and some of her colleagues cannot say the same.
At her workplace, she deals with mentally challenged people who sometimes have trouble distinguishing what it is a good behavior from what is unwanted touching. Rojas acknowledged that she has received many complains from her female mentally challenged patients who have been assaulted by men that first embraced and then suddenly started touching their private parts. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the sexual assault rate against women with mental disabilities is more than 12 times higher than it is for women in general.
Even her daughter has had problems, Rojas said. “My daughter told me that a man at church was touching her legs while talking to her,” she said. Despite the discomfort created by this situation her daughter did not speak up because, according to Rojas, “She was afraid because she did not want to embarrassed him.” Rojas said that she always advises her daughters to speak up. —Yenniffer Martinez
Trust Your Instincts
For Paola Escobosa, 26, the experience of the #MeToo movement isn’t just a hashtag—she’s says she’s lived out aspects of the movement firsthand.
“I recently ended a partnership with someone who was abusive,” she said as she rode the 1 train down to Canal Street. “He kept trying to pressure me sexually and I just resisted. I kept telling him, ‘No, no, no,’ and he just didn’t understand.” Paula did not clarify how she was pressured but did confirm that the event occurred recently.
After leaving her partner’s apartment, Paola says she returned to her home and found a long message in her Facebook inbox. It was from him and it seemed to Paola he’d composed it in a frenzy. “He basically said he’d harm himself if I didn’t come back to him,” she said. “I told him he needed to seek help.”
Paola’s former partner apologized to her the next day, but she says that for her the experience resonated with the recent national discussion about sexual harassment and sexual assault.
She is a Health Educator in New York City, and she says that she transfers her values on the subject to those young men and women she teaches five days a week. “It all starts with sex education,” she said.
And when it comes to protecting one’s self, Paola advises women to, “trust your instincts,” and to “speak out at the first sign of alarm.”