For those who don’t know, let’s be clear: It is hard to report the crime of groping to police. You know why? Because many victims of groping may internalize the crime as petty and not as big a deal as other physical assaults. Another reason why? Well, because there is a theme in our communities of how police react to these crimes: “If you don’t know what he looked like, then we don’t know if we can move forward.” In comes Liz.
Liz reported the crime to MPD. She gave a description, location, time. She called the police immediately. It was a moment of strength, determination, and “damn, we shouldn’t be dealing with this crap” that moved Liz. To be fair, it really got the conversation going again. We, DC Metro residents, shouldn’t tolerate street harassment, particularly that type of harassment which is an affront to our physical space. Your hand should not touch my ass. Nor should your hand, because your brain decided it, attempt to go up my skirt.
It appears many women reported assaults by the same suspect. And, it appears, that the police took these cases seriously. Applause. They combed through surveillance footage, did stake outs, and interviewed witnesses. Check, check and check. And, then they caught the alleged perpetrator, showed him the video, and he admitted his guilt to the crimes that were caught on camera. He also stated that he did it to several other women. Now we drop the “alleged.”
He was charged with misdemeanor sexual abuse and released to a halfway house. Keep in mind, a misdemeanor sentence is light.
Before we start getting rattled on this, let’s applaud MPD for their efforts in nabbing this guy. It may not sound like we should. But, we should. We hope they continue pulling out all the stops in all areas of DC, for all victims of sex crimes, for whenever these sex crimes take place– day or night. Seriously, awesome! Keep it up!
And, let’s take a moment to realize how messed up the criminal justice system is. It’s a complicated affair to be happy on a global level when a man of color admits guilt to misdemeanor sexual abuse. We understand that street harassment—sexual violence—is complex. Someone somewhere said that this behavior, sexually violating a person’s body without their consent, is fine. It’s okay. It’s what everyone does. We are up against a lot to change the way we teach, talk, and love one another.
But, what we can’t expect is the futility of reporting a sex crime. Here is the statute:
Whoever engages in a sexual act or sexual contact with another person and who should have knowledge or reason to know that the act was committed without that other person’s permission, shall be imprisoned for not more than 180 days and, in addition, may be fined in an amount not to exceed $1,000.
If the point is a slap on the wrist, will it matter? Does it move the ball forward if a perpetrator who grabs a woman’s breasts does not get in serious trouble? Do these laws actually stop a potential perpetrator from violating a woman’s body? With laws reflecting our moral standards, are we okay with this?
Collective Action for Safe Spaces is not pro-criminalization. We are pro-ending street harassment. This comes in many different forms—from community education and forums to potential jail time. From restorative justice mechanisms to tougher sentencing options for those who admit to sexual assault. We are pro-survivor. Sometimes the target of street harassment wants to report to police, sometimes he or she does not. We are pro-community. We take our community where it is — potential perpetrators, potential victims, and everyone on the edges and in between.
You’ve heard our opinion. Now, you tell us yours. Do you want the sentencing of misdemeanor sexual abuse to be stronger?