Growing up, we are taught that if you do something bad, you will be caught and appropriately punished. And throughout most facets of life, this usually holds true. Unless you’re a rapist in New York City.
The past year has borne witness to wave after wave of sexual assaults in our beloved city, from Manhattan to Brooklyn and the Bronx. As if that isn’t bad enough, an emerging pattern of mishandled cases by the NYPD and District Attorney offices sends a strong message: New York City does not take rape seriously.
First, there was the Tony Simmons case. Simmons was a juvenile justice counselor who sexually assaulted underage girls entrusted to his care, including one incident in which he raped a 15-year-old in a courthouse basement while she waited for her case to be called. One would think the justice system’s response would be to lock Simmons up and throw away the key. But, no. Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance and Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Cassandra Mullen thought the proper course of action was to offer Simmons a no-jail plea deal. Thankfully, women’s rights organizations caught wind of this deal and organized protests, which resulted in Mullen revoking the plea bargain and sentencing Simmons to four years in jail.
Other black marks on Manhattan’s record include the infamous acquittal of NYPD “rape cops” Kenneth Moreno and Franklin Mata this past summer, and Cy Vance’s decision to let former sportscaster Marvell Scott serve 20 days of community service in exchange for raping a 14-year-old girl who had been forcefully prostituted. And let’s not forget the other NYPD rape cop, Michael Pena, who was literally caught with his pants down sexually assaulting a woman in Washington Heights in August.
That, in a very brief nutshell, is Manhattan’s year in review. Let’s move on to Brooklyn, which has likewise been afflicted by sexual assault and an outrageous response by authorities.
Throughout the spring, summer and fall of 2011, women in Brooklyn were targeted by a serial rapist. By September, at least nine incidents were reported. The NYPD’s response? Victim-blaming, naturally. A woman told the Wall Street Journal that she was stopped by a cop, who asked, “Don’t you think your shorts are a little short?” That same cop went on to point out other women’s outfits and said such clothing could make the suspect think he had “easy access.” Note to the NYPD: rapists cause rape, not the victims or their clothing, so please re-adjust your focus and start protecting victims, not blaming them.
Now, the latest rape-related indignation comes out of the Bronx, where the DA’s office has royally screwed up, to say the least. Two men, Brian Brockington and Rodney Howard, who are linked to a brutal 1993 rape by DNA evidence, are walking free amongst us thanks to gross mismanagement. Not only was DNA evidence from the crime not processed for over a decade (the blame for this lies at the NYPD’s feet), but prosecutors reportedly dragged their feet and failed to file charges until the day after the statute of limitation expired. As a result, charges were dropped. I should also add that Brockington was charged with two other rapes – one in 2003 and another in 1997. But thanks to District Attorney Robert Johnson’s office, this serial rapist is free to rape again.
Each of the aforementioned incidents is horrible in its own right, but collectively, they paint a very disturbing – and dangerous – picture, one in which the rape of our city’s women is not taken seriously by the justice system. But as bleak and infuriating as this is, not all is lost. The very beauty in pursuing social justice is the ability to use our voices to affect change. It is urgent that as members of the NYC community, we do just this. Call your District Attorneys and demand that more attention be paid to rape cases, write Letters to the Editor expressing your outrage, and get involved in grassroots campaigns, like NOW-NYC’s Take Rape Seriously Campaign. Above all, remember that action translates to power, not only for us individually, but for those whose voices are too often marginalized.
Note: This post originally appeared on the New York Writers Coalition’s The Narrator.