“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 last July is still at large, said Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) this week.
On the heels of these attacks and a spate of separate groping incidents reported in Astoria and the Upper East Side, council members Julissa Ferreras (D-Corona) and Dromm stood on the corner of 90th Street and Roosevelt Avenue to pass out fliers with the police drawing of the Jackson Heights groper last week.
In Astoria, various groups, including the New York Anti Crime Agency and the office of Councilman Peter Vallone (D-Astoria), have mobilized to make community members more aware of the problem and help women in the neighborhood.
At least two different men accused of groping Astoria women have been arrested, according to Vallone’s office. Published reports have identified these two men as Miguel Hermenegildo, 33, and Dennis Bryan, 22. A different Queens man, Jose Alfredo Perez Hernandez, 18, has been arrested in connection with gropings on the Upper East Side.
The issue first came to attention last July because of Kate Salute, an Astoria woman who blogged about being groped on “Why Leave Astoria?” prompting an outpouring of similar stories from other women. Salute wrote in an email that some 45 women have since come forward.
Salute is hosting a rally with Michelle Gutmann, a woman who was similarly groped in Astoria, on Thursday, Aug. 18, at 7 p.m. in Athens Square Park. The rally will feature a self-defense demonstration as well as remarks from Vallone’s office and the 114th Precinct.
The number of incidents reported in Queens in the last month and half might point to the increased comfort 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 occurrence. This is more pervasive than we want to acknowledge,” May said.
In Jackson Heights, Loayza pointed to the spot on 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.
Dromm, Ferreras and Vallone 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 harassment to the police if they’re undocumented.
“You’re not going to have problems with your immigration status if you report it,” he said.
Referring to her attitude toward the harassment she’d received in her neighborhood, Loayza said: “It’s not normal that I think it’s normal.”