Lara Logan: The Rape Question, and a Scandalous NYPD Connection

After news of the vicious attack last Friday in Cairo on CBS reporter Lara Logan, the worms started crawling out of the woodwork. So far, the foremost twit on Twitter has been NYU fellow Nir Rosen, whose crassness cost him his job, as my colleague, Joe Coscarelli, notes.

But all this sneering crap from creepy-crawlies like Rosen and right-wing nut Debbie Schlussel still obscures the question: What exactly happened to Lara Logan?

After I posted that question earlier this morning, in light of the Post's saying that sources told the paper that Logan wasn't raped, I had the following exchange with one of my Facebook friends, who wrote me:

Wonder who the Post's source who claims to know she wasn't raped was -- Nir Rosen, some random Twitter feed? A "brutal and sustained sexual assault" sure sounds like rape to me.

I replied:

Well, we don't know. I seriously doubt that the Post would rely on a crackpot idiot like Nir Rosen. The fact is that "sexual assault" is often a euphemism, and in legal terms, it encompasses a wide array of behavior. Yes, all such behavior is reprehensible, but was she raped? Nir Rosen assumed she was "just groped." That's stupid. The Post didn't rely on that. You say it "sure sounds like rape to me," but that's the point. Was it rape? Even the cops blur those lines, and a recent scandal in NYC revolved around cops downplaying rapes into lesser incidents of "sexual assault" (so they could manipulate their statistics and make the city seem safer than it is) and that allowed a dangerous rapist in the city to continue his rapes of women. The Voice wrote about this a few months ago. So it DOES make a difference what specifically happened to Lara Logan.

I'm referring to colleague Graham Rayman's Voice story from last May, "NYPD Forced to Apologize Publicly to Rape Victim for Downgrading Her Attack." That story, which, as it happens, focuses on a female journalist who was a victim of an attempted rape, shows that the question of what exactly does happen during sexual assaults does matter.

Here's part of Rayman's piece, which speaks for itself:

[T]he Voice has learned that the NYPD downgraded a felony sexual assault in a park in upper Manhattan earlier this year to a misdemeanor.

The incident was only reclassified and upgraded to a felony after the victim, journalist Debbie Nathan, protested and the Manhattan District Attorney took the extraordinary step of interviewing the police officers involved and confirming her account. The commander of the 34th Precinct, Deputy Inspector Andrew Capul, was forced to apologize publicly to Nathan in a community hearing. Capul was recently transferred from the precinct. . . .

Harriet Lessel, the director of the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, an association of a wide variety of groups involved in sexual assault treatment and prevention, says that NYPD downgrading of sexual assaults from felonies to misdemeanors has become a growing problem over the past 18 months.

There's no doubt that Debbie Nathan was a victim of attempted rape, which is a hell of a lot more serious than "forcible touching." Here's how Rayman's story described the 2010 attack:

Nathan, 59, . . . says she was walking in Inwood Park on the northern tip of Manhattan on the evening of February 21. She says she was grabbed by a young man who pushed her off the path and into the woods.

She couldn't free herself of him. Twice, she says, he told her he wanted to have sex with her. He grabbed her from behind and pinned her arms at her sides. He began masturbating against her, for a couple of minutes, had an orgasm, and then fled.

Yet the NYPD officers classified it as "forcible touching." Ludicrous. From Rayman's story:

Six officers went over her complaint. She told them her attacker told her his name was Michael, and he was 17. He was wearing a tan jacket. She told them about being pushed into the woods. She talked about what he said and what he did.

"I stressed that I was at all time overpowered," she says. "The female officer, I thought she was acting weird. She wasn't writing anything down."

The officers interviewed her for two hours. At some point, one of them said they didn't know how to classify the crime, so they called the Special Victims Unit, and spoke to them without Nathan being able to hear what they were saying.

After awhile, the Special Victims unit told the officers that the crime was misdemeanor "forcible touching."

Nathan insisted that it was an attempted rape, a felony. "I argued that the force used against me, the masturbation, and the veritable kidnapping constituted far more than a misdemeanor," Nathan says.

The officers ignored her protests and left.

On February 22, Nathan called the Inwood Safety Patrol, a citizens group which monitors neighborhood safety. That group called the local state assemblyman, Adriano Espaillat, and the 34th Precinct commander to complain.

After that, Nathan's complaint was upgraded to felony attempted rape. At a packed community meeting, the precinct commander apologized to Nathan, and promised an investigation.

The story of the NYPD's downgrading of rape complaints got even more horrifying in June 2010, when Rayman revealed that such downgrading actually allowed a rapist to continue roaming free. Here's what Rayman wrote in "A Detective Comes Forward About Downgraded Sexual Assaults":

Responding to the ongoing Voice series "NYPD Tapes," [retired NYPD Detective First Grade Harold] Hernandez reveals publicly for the first time that the downgrading of crimes to manipulate statistics allowed a man to commit six sexual assaults in a Washington Heights neighborhood in 2002 before he was finally caught after his seventh attack.

The initial six crimes, committed over a two-month period, went unnoticed by 33rd Precinct detectives, Hernandez says, because patrol supervisors had improperly labeled most of them as misdemeanors. It was only through a lucky break--an alert neighbor spotted the suspect pushing his seventh victim into her apartment--that the rapist, Daryl Thomas, was finally captured.

After his arrest, Hernandez persuaded Thomas to detail his earlier crimes. The detective then combed through stacks of crime complaint reports to identify the pattern of violence.

Hernandez learned that most of the victims' complaints in the prior assaults had been classified as criminal trespassing, so the incidents never reached the detective squad and, in turn, were never declared a pattern, which would have triggered an intense campaign to capture the perpetrator.

He says Thomas told him that with each new assault, his brazenness and level of violence increased: "I asked him, 'Weren't you ever afraid that you would get caught in any of these locations?' He goes 'Nah. I looked around, I never saw any cops,' " Hernandez says. "What they do is continue to hide these complaint reports, and what happens is no one is alerted that they have a serious crime pattern in those areas."

A Manhattan jury convicted Thomas in five cases on first-degree attempted rape, robbery, burglary, and sexual assault charges. He is currently serving a 50-year sentence in a state prison in Romulus, New York.

It does matter exactly what happens during a sexual assault. As I pointed out before, if Lara Logan was raped, that makes the attack even more horrific and, among other things, would justify an even stronger response by the U.S. government.

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