Police suspect that multiple men are responsible for sexually assaulting 12 women in Park Slope and surrounding neighborhoods since March.
Police said they initially attributed the attacks to a single serial rapist based on victims’ descriptions that seemed to point to a lone attacker — a Hispanic man between 20 and 30 years old, 5-foot-7 to 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds. Troubled by the slew of assaults, residents have banded together to organize a march, volunteer as walking buddies or bike escorts, coordinate free self-defense classes and demand increased police presence.
In a new development, police early Sunday 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.
According to the police incident report, Yax approached two 22-year-old women on Sunday at 3 a.m. near 56th Street. Police said he groped one woman, then fell to the ground after the pair fought back. The suspect groped the second woman while on the ground before fleeing on foot, according to the account. Yax was later arrested in his Bensonhurst apartment. He also faces charges for a similar Sept. 4 incident, police said.
Police have circulated sketches of three alleged assailants — excluding Yax — throughout the afflicted neighborhoods. Raul Pintos, 72nd Precinct Deputy Inspector, said each wanted poster is tied to a different case.
Pintos said there have been discrepancies in the victims’ accounts and surveillance videos made available to police.
“Leading up to the last events, we think there are two or three people,” Pintos said. “The descriptions of these individuals seem to vary. … We know that now he’s being described as a male Hispanic, muscular. We were led to believe by some of the sketches, the video that he was thin before.”
According to Pintos, the attacker usually accosts a target from behind, attempts to push her to the ground and reaches under her clothes. He said one woman was raped; the rest fought off their aggressor or had others intervene and scare him away. The culprit usually escaped by foot, but drove away on several instances. One of the victims saw her assailant climb into a cream colored Chevy SUV.
Six of the 11 confirmed attacks occurred in South Slope and Park Slope, three — including the rape — took place in Sunset Park and two others happened in Bay Ridge. Pintos said all the victims were petite white women between 20 and 36 years old wearing skirts or dresses. The assaults have usually occurred on weekend nights between 10:30 p.m. and 4:15 a.m.
Yax fits the general description given by victims, but his actions, as described by police, are distinct from the other perpetrators. His alleged victims were Hispanic and black, while all the other women were white and alone when attacked.
According to Pintos, the most recent five assaults — excluding Yax’s alleged attacks — took place near the subway stations at Prospect Avenue and Fourth Avenue and at Ninth Street and Seventh Avenue. The precinct has increased both undercover and uniformed deployment in those areas.
These sexual assaults reflect an upward trend in rape cases both in the neighborhood and citywide. The 72nd Precinct has received 18 reports of rapes so far this year, up from 13 rapes reported during the same period last year. Reported rapes in the precinct also spiked by 186 percent from 2008 to 2010, according to the Digital Network Associates’ annual crime and safety report. Although New York City’s overall crime rate dropped by 1.5 percent from 2009 to 2010, rapes surged by almost 14 percent.
New Park Slope resident Jaime Young expressed concern that the police aren’t working hard enough to stop the trend.
“I don’t like the fact that I have to worry about my girlfriend being raped when she’s walking home from work,” he said. “I don’t feel like I’ve seen more [police officers]. I’ve seen them go to 7/11 to buy coffee and talk on their cell phones.”
Community members are also upset that officers patrolling the neighborhood have advised women against wearing shorts and skirts to avoid drawing attention to themselves.
The victim of the Sept. 8 attempted rape reported the incident on the Park Slope Parents blog and said police didn’t respond to her 911 call. Officer Pintos disputed this, saying every sexual assault case reported to his precinct has been thoroughly investigated.
In other complaints, a Kensington resident claims a Crime Stoppers officer hung up on her on Sept. 6 when she called to notify them that a man who flashed her on the subway fit the description of one of the rapists at large. A man who said he witnessed the March 20 assault — the first in the string of attacks — claimed he notified police that his porch surveillance video captured the attempted rape, but received no word from authorities until he released the tape to media outlets weeks later.
In response to the attacks, a newly formed group called Safe Slope organized a “Take Back Our Streets” rally on Sept. 14. Event organizers said almost 500 community members marched from the Prospect Avenue R line station to Detective Joseph Mayrose Park to demonstrate solidarity and deter future violence.
“Our … goals were to promote the idea that it’s not just about catching one (or two or three) perpetrators and increasing police visibility that will end rape and violence against populations like women and LGBTQ folks,” Safe Slope cofounder Jessica Silk said in an e-mail. “It’s about long-term, community-based efforts to promote social justice and prevent violence.”
Berta Bustamante, who attended the march with her four-year-old daughter Mares, said news of the attacks have forced her to remain indoors at nights. Her daughter carried a sign at the rally that read “Let’s raise a generation free of violence.”
To help protect women walking alone at nights, Safe Slope volunteers accompany people traveling between Ninth and 30th Streets and between Second and Eight Avenues, from Thursday to Sunday nights, between 8 p.m. and 3 a.m. Additionally, a bike-mounted volunteer patrol escort people home from five subway stations between 8 p.m. and midnight.
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