“If you have breasts, you get hit on. That’s how this neighborhood is,” said Nicolle Loayza, 26. She was talking about Jackson Heights, where she was born and raised. A man accused of groping three women in the neighborhood on two different occasions is still at large.
On the heels of these reports and a spate of separate groping incidents reported in Astoria and the Upper East Side, council members Julissa Ferreras (D-Corona) and Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) stood on the corner of 90th Street and Roosevelt Avenue today to pass out fliers with the police drawing of the Jackson Heights groper.
Yesterday, a different man, Jose Alfredo Perez Hernandez, was arrested for allegedly fondling several women on the Upper East Side, according to published reports. Hernandez is from Corona.
Ferreras said she decided to canvass Jackson Heights today both because of the incidents that occurred in her district and because of Hernandez. “Is this the place where people come to hide?” she asked of Corona.
While Dromm and Ferreras continued to pass out fliers, Loayza pointed to the spot across Roosevelt Avenue where she said men often wait just to look up women’s skirts when they climb the stairs to the 90th St. 7 train.
She described the time a man grabbed her crotch a few blocks away when she was just 12 years old, and said men often follow her home from the train, catcalling her along the way. However, she has never reported a single incident.
“I’ve learned to deal with it,” she said. “You just walk around the block and try to lose them.”
But Ferreras thinks this is precisely the problem.
“It’s not just about shrugging it off or avoiding a corner,” Ferreras said.
The number of incidents reported in Queens in the last two months might point to the increased comfortability women have in telling their stories because so many others have come out, said Emily May, the executive director of hollaback!, an organization that seeks to combat street harassment.
“[Groping] is not a rare occurence. This is more pervasive than we want to acknowledge,” May said.
Dromm and Ferreras are encouraging women in their districts to continue coming forward.
“It’s never all right to touch anyone in an unwanted manner,” Dromm said. He added that some residents of Jackson Heights and Corona, which are largely Hispanic neighborhoods, may be afraid to report harrasment to the police if they’re undocumented.
“You’re not going to have problems with your immigration status if you report it,” he said.
Loayza, a flier in hand, seemed to come to a realization about the harassment she has experienced.
“It’s not normal that I think it’s normal,” she said.