How to Talk to Your 6-Year-Old About Sexual Assault

park slope rapist, brooklyn sexual assault

But how do they know they have the right guy, Mommy?

“There are more cops out tonight than last night,” I said to my daughter as we went for groceries yesterday evening.  ”Yeah, and all their lights are on,” she replied.  ”They’re still looking for the attackers,” I said.

That’s what I call them, “the attackers.”  But what I mean is the men who have raped or sexually assaulted several women in the area surrounding where we live in South Slope, Brooklyn.  Most mothers probably wouldn’t go out of their way to bring up the subject of sexual assault with their not-quite 6-year-old girl, but I couldn’t help it.  The police presence in our nabe has been escalating for weeks now, as the NYPD tries to make up for the fact that they ignored the attacks for months as they were first happening.

The blog Brooklyn Ink reports, “Police suspect that multiple men are responsible for sexually assaulting 12 women in Park Slope and surrounding neighborhoods since March.”  My daughter and I moved to the Slope in April, but I didn’t hear about the attacks until August, when I saw two small signs in the window of a closed store printed on green copy paper that read something to the effect of, “Residents should be warned that there have been multiple sexual assaults in the area” and included police sketches of two possible suspects (see main photo for example).  Outraged community members held a rally September 14th to “demand increased police presence,” as Brooklyn Ink notes, and organizations like Brooklyn Bike Patrol have made themselves available to escort women home at night.  (One of the reasons I chose to move here is because this community is nothing if not a vigilant, like-minded group of concerned citizens who rally for the protection of individuals and institutions in need.)

On Sunday, police “arrested Brooklyn resident Federico Chamorro Yax after he allegedly attacked two women in Sunset Park. Yax faces assault, sexual abuse and forcible touching charges. Police sources said they are investigating whether Yax is connected to assaults on women in other areas.”  Attempted rapes have occurred in South Slope, Park Slope, Sunset Park and Bay Ridge.  Police believe there are at least 2 or 3 men who have been the perpetrators of these crimes.  Of the 11 confirmed attacks, one was a rape and “the rest fought off their aggressor or had others intervene and scare him away,” Brooklyn Ink reports.  ”The assaults have usually occurred on weekend nights between 10:30 p.m. and 4:15 a.m.” and “all the victims were petite, white women between 20 and 36 years old wearing skirts or dresses.”

Which is what leads us to my colleague Meredith’s recent post about the NYPD blaming the victims of these assaults.  She wrote:

The Wall Street Journal reported that one neighborhood woman was walking home from the gym this week when a cop stopped her and two other women. He pointed to their outfits (shorts on one, dresses on the other two), and asked, “Don’t you think your shorts are a little short?” And to the women in dresses he observed they were “showing a lot of skin.”

Such clothing, according to the cop, could make an assailant think he had “easy access.”

This morning I got an email from change.org about a petition up on their site urging the NYPD officers working in Park Slope to go through rape sensitivity training ASAP. From change.org:

New Yorkers Against Sexualized Violence has started a petition to Commissioner Ray Kelly to get all officers working on the Park Slope case into extended rape sensitivity training by October 15. They’re meeting with the NYPD tomorrow and want to bring as many signatures on their petition with them as they can. Will you add your name now?

The media has already begun to report on the NYPD’s shady tactics — and Park Slope residents’ negative reactions. If New Yorkers Against Sexualized Violence can bring thousands of signatures to their meeting with the NYPD tomorrow, the NYPD will pull back quickly.

Here’s a link to the petition if you’d like to sign it.  I did.

So, now, in closing, let’s get back to the original subject of this post: talking to your kids about sexual assault.  About two weeks ago, as I mentioned, my daughter and I started noticing lots of police presence on the avenues surrounding our house as we drove around, especially in the evening.  We pretty much travel by car at all times, so I’ve never worried about us being susceptible to attack, but I did feel a need to explain to her what was going on.  I told her that some men had attacked some women in the neighborhood and that the police were looking for them.  I didn’t explain the sexual nature of the crimes, mostly because she didn’t ask me to elaborate.  What she did ask me when we were coming home Monday night, though, I found very insightful and brilliant.  ”But how would the police be able to identify who did it?,” she asked me.  ”They have drawings of the suspects based on the description that the women who were attacked gave,” I said.  Yes, she paused, “but how would the police know they have the right person?”

An excellent question, I told her, but rather than explain DNA evidence and that sort of thing, rather than discuss the potential problems with victim and witness testimony, I thought to myself, “Yeah, how do they know they have the right guy?”  Obviously there are ways to prove that someone is guilty of a crime, but none are foolproof, and we know for certain that the justice system is flawed (see Amanda Knox, Troy Davis, Casey Anthony, etc.).  Then I thought about this photo I’d seen on Facebook — which has now been shared over 3,500 times — of a black newscaster with a police sketch behind him on the screen that makes him look like a rape suspect.  I’m convinced this image must be photoshopped, but people seem to have no problem sharing it for a laugh — while conveniently ignoring the potentially racist message.  I thought about my black boyfriend, and how my daughter likes him, and how she wouldn’t understand any of the complexities of this, and how I wish we lived in a world without rape and racism so I wouldn’t have to be having this conversation.  And then we went home, and I tucked her in safe and sound.

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