Twice Soaked

For Women of Central Park, Official Outcry Obscures Unmentionables

Women's advocates wonder why there was not a similar condemnation of the park assaults. While a state hate crimes law is still pending, the advocates stress the importance of official recognition of the seriousness of crimes committed against individuals merely because of their gender.

"It is a hate crime," says Rodgers of the sex attacks, and Siegel says the women's civil rights were certainly violated.

"What people are not willing to say," Wilson argues, "is, this is a form of social control."

"As a society, we're not prepared to see the systemic patterns. [Cops] tend to look at sex crimes as isolated, as opposed to systemic."
illustration: Patrick Arrasmith
"As a society, we're not prepared to see the systemic patterns. [Cops] tend to look at sex crimes as isolated, as opposed to systemic."


Recommendations for remedies to Sunday's assaults from women's advocates range in scope from the swift arrest of suspects and disciplining of delinquent officers to the strengthening of state and federal legislation to provide legal avenues for women seeking redress for gender-based discrimination or violence.

NOWLDEF, upon having lost the effort to preserve the section of VAWA struck down by the Supreme Court, is focusing its energies on prodding Congress to reauthorize funding for the remainder of the act, which in part would provide education and training to police and prosecutors in the handling of sexual-violence cases.

New York congresswoman Carolyn Maloney is pushing an amendment to the federal Hate Crimes Statistics Act that would require states to collect data on gender-based crimes as well as in the already designated categories of race, religion, and sexual orientation.

And as some representatives in Congress struggle to insert recognition of gender into the existing federal hate crimes act—which currently provides additional penalties for crimes based on a person's race, ethnicity, or religion—New York State legislators are battling over rhetorical differences between two nearly identical hate crimes bills passed this month by the state senate and awaiting the governor's signature.

But, Ortiz argues, "Laws in themselves don't do anything," saying that "the laws that are already on the books aren't being properly enforced." She questions whether laws tried on a case-by-case basis will have broad societal impact.

"As a society, we're not prepared—since it's mainly male-driven in the law enforcement area—to see the systemic patterns," says Siegel. "They tend to look at sex crimes as isolated, as opposed to systemic."

Anannya Bhattacharjee, an advocate for South Asian immigrant women workers, says the "top-down" approach of legislative reform never reaches many women of color, especially when they are poor or undocumented. Ortiz agrees that low-income women of color "may not know about" legislative possibilities and says, "They don't have access."

In addition to legislative measures, advocates for poor women of color call for a "ground-up" education effort in minority communities against sexist attitudes and effective training for police officers on how better to deal with racially charged situations and incidents of sexual violence—separately and, as in the case of Sunday's attacks, concurrently.

Ortiz wonders,"realistically speaking, how many [sex assault victims] will be given the benefit of the doubt to use those laws," without such training for authorities and penalties for officers who condone or promote bias. "We already have seen how many of these women from Sunday were dismissed," she says. "It defies logic."

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