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Queens Chronicle

Astoria women start to fight back

Maloney praises groping victims who brought issue to attention

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Posted: Thursday, August 25, 2011 12:00 pm | Updated: 1:18 pm, Thu Sep 1, 2011.

“He rode up to me, face forward,” Kate Salute said, describing how she was molested on an Astoria street near her apartment on July 17. “He grabbed my breast.”

During a rally against sexual violence in Astoria’s Athens Square Park last Thursday, just blocks from where the incident occurred on 31st Street and 30th Avenue, Salute described how the attack had made her feel:

“Absolutely violated and angry.”

Salute and her friend, Michelle Gutmann, are credited with prompting dozens of women to come forward since July 17 with reports that they were also groped by a cyclist in Astoria, described as a “pervert” and “serial groper” by officials.

Astoria women have also come forward to report unwanted sexual overtures and attacks by other men as well, such as an incident in which a man grabbed his crotch and harassed two 10-year-old girls in an apartment building on 29th Street on Aug. 5.

At the rally in Astoria, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan and Queens) and Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) were on hand to thank Salute for having come forward on the community website, Why Leave Astoria?

Immediately following her attack, Salute, with help from Gutmann, wrote a post on the website warning residents about the groper. In response, dozens of women replied that they had been similarly groped, an outpouring that got the attention of Vallone’s office and the 114th Precinct.

“This was a serial groper,” Maloney said. “We would not have known about it if it weren’t for Kate and Michelle.”

“[They] turned the incident into a rallying cry to prevent this from happening to anyone else,” she added.

Since the incident, Salute and Gutmann have founded an organization, Astoria Against Violence, to fight sexual violence against women.

The rally was one of two events held this month in Astoria in which women could learn more about self-defense methods and community services for victims of sexual violence, harassment and abuse.

While two arrests have been made in connection with the gropings in the neighborhood, the man accused of harassing the two girls in the apartment building had still not been apprehended, Vallone said last week.

Julia Hess, the mother of one of the girls, was upset that police had taken over two hours to respond to her 911 call, during which the suspect had plenty of time to escape.

A few women on Why Leave Astoria? had also complained about a lack of police response.

Addressing this, Vallone said he had spoken with the 114th Precinct.

“The inspector is going to ensure that these things are treated as a priority,” Vallone said.

Despite the two arrests, Salute said her attacker still hadn’t been caught, though since the arrests Vallone noted that no further groping incidents by cyclists have been reported.

Salute says she has seen only one of the two men arrested, who she said was not her attacker. She wrote in an email:

“Maybe these guys are taking the hint that they will be caught if they continue.”

Welcome to the discussion.