Friday, August 5, 2011

Serial Rapist in Ann Arbor: This Time It's Personal

Between July 15 and 26, six women walking alone at night in Ann Arbor were sexually assaulted. Two were raped, including one in the elevator of a parking garage. Police have released two composite sketches, which I've posted here, of the suspect(s). They are pretty sure they're looking for no more than two people, but they may be looking for one.

I have written in this space before about the low crime rate in Ann Arbor and environs. People around here do not expect this kind of thing to happen. This is a pretty safe town.

Over the weekend, the local media ran a story about crime in Ann Arbor in light of the recent attacks. It turns out the number of major crimes in all categories is actually down in Ann Arbor this year. That's right. Rape is down. Last year, there were 30 rapes reported between January 1 and July 30. This year there have been 23.

There are two aspects of this statistic that catch most of us by surprise, whether they should or not. The first, of course, is that rape is down at a time when women are very concerned for their safety. The second is that there have 23 rapes this year, 21 of which did not make the news. Why? Because the vast majority of rapes, like the vast majority of other crimes, happen between people who know each other. They are not the stranger in the dark alley, they are the friend or acquaintance in the living room, or the ex-boyfriend, or the estranged husband, or the current boyfriend or husband.

Someone really has been lurking in dark alleys in Ann Arbor, and that really is bad, don't get me wrong. Right now, the risk of being raped at random is elevated. But the reason it's news is because it's a stranger in a dark alley. When this guy is caught, it will barely put a dent in the sexual assault rate in this town. We'll still be a town where 21 rapes occur, instead of 23.

And yet that other town, the one with 21 attacks, felt so much safer. By about the third attack, I was sitting down with my teenage daughter and talking frankly about the attacks and about her safety. I told her that we generally trust her common sense not to do something obviously dangerous, and we didn't let her walk around downtown alone at night anyway. But until this guy is caught, I told her, she needed to regard some things that common sense might say was safe as not being safe, including getting into an elevator with one other person at any time of day downtown.

Last Friday afternoon, I drove to an appointment downtown in the mid-afternoon. I drive to this area often and feel quite secure. But on Friday, I noticed myself having feeling very anxious about where I was going to park. Even as I got more nervous as I approached my destination, I was also aware that this made no sense. I always find parking. If there's nothing on the street, there's something in the structure half a block away. That's when it hit me. I wasn't nervous about finding a spot. I was afraid to park in the structure.

As soon as I realized this, I got mad. Mad that someone out there is singlehandedly holding me and every other woman in this community hostage. Mad that men in our society are so much less likely to be sexually assaulted, certainly by a stranger. Mad at a society that fails to see this as an issue that is, at its core, about sexism.
A week later, this guy has still not been caught. I'm still mad. I hope, however, that when he is caught I still remember to feel mad on behalf of those other 21 women, and that I'm not just relieved that I can go back to believing that this is something that happens to other people.

Note: I make it a usual practice never to post the picture of the perpetrator of a crime so as not to give them any "glory." However, since this one is still out there, and somebody must know who he is, I have posted the composite sketches above. Please, if you recognize him, call the AAPD at 734-794-6939.


Annie Z said...

Good points. When it's a stranger it is big news. When it's your 'loved one' it isn't news-worthy to anyone but you!

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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
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