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Central Park Sexual Attacks

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Another suspect wanted in connection with last week’s rampage in Central Park surrendered yesterday as the number of victims grew to 53. Dellon Evans turned himself in to 13th Precinct detectives yesterday afternoon with a lawyer at his side after his picture was circulated as one of the men wanted for sexually assaulting dozens of women, cops said. Evans became the 18th man charged in the June 11 mayhem in which bands of young men surrounded, groped, stripped and robbed women after the National Puerto Rican Day Parade. Meanwhile, Police say they are now investigating complaints that officers ignored victims’ pleas for help.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re listening to Pacific Radio’s Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman.

There’s been another arrest in last weekend’s sexual attacks on women in Central Park. Seventeen-year-old Dellon Evans is the 18th person to be charged in the assaults, which followed New York’s Puerto Rican Day Parade. Four more women have also come forward to say they were groped, stripped, robbed and otherwise abused by the swirling mob of young men. That brings the total number of women who say they were assaulted to 53. At least four of the women have said they plan to sue the city on grounds that police failed to come to their aid. Evans was one of the suspects whose photographs were taken from videos of the attacks. He’s charged with sexual abuse and robbery.

We’re joined by a number of people who are going to talk about what took place. We start with Sanford Rubenstein, attorney for two of the victims of the Central Park attack.

We welcome you to Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us who these two women are, who you’re representing, and what their story is, what took place on that day, two Sundays ago?

SANFORD RUBENSTEIN: They’re all college students from New Jersey — one is a mother — who happened to be in the park because they got there late for the parade, and were accosted and surrounded by 30 to 40 men, sexually attacked, abused, assaulted. And after the attack, at two separate locations, police officers refused to help them. One said he was too busy directing traffic. The other said he had no means of communication. This happened about 6:30 in the evening. Prior to their attack, there had been reported in the press numerous people who have said they went to the police as early as early that afternoon, and the police did nothing. At 6:15, 6:14, there were other attacks in the same location. Another woman who was attacked, at about 6:15, said she went to the police at two different locations, and the police did absolutely nothing to intervene to stop what was going on.

AMY GOODMAN: What have the police responded?

SANFORD RUBENSTEIN: Well, in this particular case, in spite of the fact that the police at the scene failed first to do anything to stop what was going on, and, secondly, did nothing to help these two victims, my clients are both fully cooperating with the detectives investigating their assault, as well as the Internal Affairs Bureau, who is investigating the failure of the police officers to come to their aid.

AMY GOODMAN: The two women you represent were part of a news conference and also a rally on Sunday. The National Organization for Women marched with many people. Also, the Reverend Al Sharpton was there, many people talking about national hate crimes legislation, as well. Did they think race entered into — your two clients — are both students students at Howard University, by the way?

SANFORD RUBENSTEIN: One is a student at Howard University.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the students.

SANFORD RUBENSTEIN: The other is a student at a technical school.

AMY GOODMAN: Did they think race entered into the police’s lack of response?

SANFORD RUBENSTEIN: Look, these are two victims of sexual assault. This is not an issue about race. In fact, one of the girls mentioned that at one of the locations, one of the police officers who refused to help them said, “Well, I refused to help another girl,” who he described as white, with regard to making an excuse to them: “I’m not helping anybody.” This is not about race. This is about sexual assault and sexual abuse by young men out of control, and the police in New York not doing anything to stop it, when they knew it was going on, and that, then, not doing anything to help the victims after it was over.

AMY GOODMAN: Describe what actually took place, for listeners around the country who might not be as familiar with the details. One story after another begins by women saying that they were first drenched with water, with these Super Soaker guns, until they were blinded.

SANFORD RUBENSTEIN: They were drenched with water prior to being sexually assaulted. And they even had the horrifying experience, after themselves being trapped in this gang of 30 to 35 men — they were separated during the attacks, because there were separate attacks on each of them, and one of them literally had to go back into this mob to pull her friend out, who was hysterical, crying on the ground. She had been thrown to the ground, hitting her back on the curb, and then sexually molested. After that happened, her friend, Josina Lawrence, pulled Ashana Cover out of this mob. There was one young man in the mob who helped open the mob up when he saw it had already gone too far.

AMY GOODMAN: Sanford Rubenstein, I wanted to bring a psychological counselor into this discussion. I’m looking at a piece that was run a few days ago in Newsday. It was actually on the Associated Press, and it’s by Deepti Hajela. She said, “The water came out of nowhere. A couple guys with what looked like water bottles started splashing me, catching me on my arms, my back, my side. I kept turning to get away, moving toward the Central Park South exit, assuming my friend Stephanie was right behind me. It was hot and sticky Sunday, so the first splash was actually kind of cooling. I was annoyed but not really angry. But the guys started aiming at my face, splashing over and over again until I was blinded. I couldn’t see where they were coming from anymore. And I couldn’t see Stephanie, until I heard her scream my name and break through the group of guys who had surrounded and groped her. Stephanie agreed yesterday to have her comments published on condition her last name not be used.” And she went on to say, “We moved into the park in the late afternoon to get away from the parade spectators, were making our way to the west side.” And she writes later in the piece. “We meant to exit on Central Park West but got turned around and ended up near Central Park South.” She said, “As we neared the entrance, we heard shouting coming from a crowd of guys. 'I saw water going up in the air,' Stephanie said. 'I was too far away to assess what exactly was going on, but I didn't want to walk through that area, just because you never know what could happen.’” And then, as she went on, she quotes her friend saying, “Before I knew it, I was surrounded by what seemed to be 20 guys all pouring water on me, and I was trying to push through. They were coming at me from all directions. They were grabbing my butt, groping my butt, and I was screaming, and I was trying to get through, trying to get away. The guys had separated us, so I couldn’t see Stephanie. She couldn’t see me. I was lucky. The guys around me didn’t try to touch me. I was able to move forward. But the ones around Stephanie had her trapped.” And then it goes on from there.

We’re joined right now by Ana Ferrer, who is program coordinator of the Mount Sinai Sexual Assault and Intervention Program. She is a psychological counselor herself.

Ana Ferrer, thank you for making room in your busy schedule. Can you talk about this in terms of what women experience after they’ve gone through something like this?

ANA FERRER: Well, as you can well imagine, it’s an extremely frightening experience, that they feel that their life is being threatened in some way, and the fear that they experience is tremendous. And they feel some shame when this is happening. So it’s a variety of emotional thoughts and feelings that come through, that they experience.

AMY GOODMAN: In terms of stages of response, what women go through right afterwards, I was reading about a mother who was talking about her 14-year-old daughter, who had been one of those 53, at this point, women, who said she came home and she won’t leave the house, she won’t go to high school. What are the phases that women go through? And how often do they report what has happened to them?

ANA FERRER: They first, like, within right after the assault, it’s mostly fear, a heightened hypervigilance, that they’re afraid of their surroundings, afraid to leave the home, in the instances when the assaults happened outside of the home. They’re afraid of being assaulted again. They feel guilt. They feel embarrassment. They blame themselves for what happened. So, that’s within two to three weeks after the assault. Then, after that, they then begin — continue having these same responses, but then nightmares also continue, lower self-esteem. So, it’s a long-term effect that these assaults have on these women. And it’s something that needs to be taken seriously.

And regarding when they come to seek help, some come right away, and some come a long time after the assault, when they begin to realize how it’s affecting their lives, and they can’t function the way they were functioning before. So it depends on the individual, and also the support that they’re getting from other people or their family members and, in some instances, with the response they’ve gotten from the police, how serious they have been taken. And so, it’s a variety of things that come into play that will determine when the individual come to counseling.

AMY GOODMAN: In terms of your clients now for sexual assault, how late or after an event will someone come to you? I mean, are we talking a year?

ANA FERRER: Well, I have people that have come 20 years after an assault, when they have not disclosed the incident to anybody, and 20 years after, they realize how the assault has affected their lives, and they realize that they need to get some help. And on the other hand, I have people that come weeks after the assault. So, again, it varies from person to person. But my experience has been that it’s usually people that will continue and commit to counseling will — it’s going to be a little bit farther along after the assault. And also, our program sees people right in the emergency room, where we provide the support and advocacy and then offer counseling services, and we leave it up to them of when they feel ready, that we’re we’re open for whenever they feel ready to talk about it.

AMY GOODMAN: Ana Ferrer, what is the most and least helpful response that people can have to a friend or family member who has been assaulted?

ANA FERRER: I think blaming them for what happened. “What were you doing there?” And also, I’ve heard it being said in this occasion, “Look how you were dressed.” So, the least helpful is blaming the survivor in any way, whether it be “Why were you there?” “You should have not done that.” Like, it’s the blaming part of it, it should not be the response. It should be “I’m sorry this happened to you. Let’s get you some help. What do you want me to do? This was not your fault. This was the perpetrator’s responsibility.” So, again, not saying anything that will instill any blame on the survivor.

AMY GOODMAN: Sanford Rubenstein, finally, you have been involved in a number of cases. Were you involved in the Abner Louima case?

SANFORD RUBENSTEIN: I also represent Abner Louima.

AMY GOODMAN: In terms of police response, can you make any comparisons here?

SANFORD RUBENSTEIN: Other than the fact that both Abner Louima and these two girls are victims, victims who have come forward, in both cases, to say what they want to come out of this, this terrible, terrible torture that Abner suffered and the sexual attack that these two young ladies are suffering now — what they want to come out of it, more than anything else, is that what happened to them not happen to anyone else. And that’s the reason these two girls came forward and are talking about what happened to them, because, more than anything else, what they want is for no one’s daughter to suffer as they have.

And hopefully what will come out of this is a national effort to talk about what these young men did, that it was terribly wrong. And young men should know that they can’t do things like that. And the way that will be happening is not only by victims talking about what happened, but also by the criminal justice system seeing to it that these young men be held criminally accountable for their actions, as well as civil damages, if they’re appropriate, which we’re looking for in the case, to be paid to the victims by the city of New York for the failure of their police to do their job. But more than anything else, let’s hope that at the end of the day these types of terrible, terrible sexual attacks, which some men think are OK, it becomes clear that it is not OK, it’s criminal, and that, as a result, we won’t have any more of these terrible, terrible cases.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both very much for being with us, Ana Ferrer, program coordinator of the Mount Sinai Sexual Assault and Intervention Program in New York City and also psychological counselor — we’re in the midst of her schedule in the day seeing clients — and Sanford Rubenstein, attorney for two of the victims of the Central Park attacks. You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!, the Exception to the Rulers. I’m Amy Goodman. In just a minute, we’re going to go to Massachusetts Representative Byron Rushing. He is the legislator who authored the law that the U.S. Supreme Court just struck down unanimously yesterday. It is a law that was modeled after the boycotts of South Africa under apartheid, that penalize companies doing business with the military dictatorship of Burma. And then we’re going to talk about a song that Time magazine said was the most important song of the century, a song that sparked a revolution, many will say, and that is “Strange Fruit.” But before we do that, we’re joined on the telephone right now by Lisa White, who is with 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care. It is a police officers’ association in New York.

We welcome you to Democracy Now!

LISA WHITE: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: We’ve just gone through this discussion with a psychological counselor, Ana Ferrer, as well as an attorney for two of the victims of the Central Park sexual assaults. The number now looks like something like 53 women have come forward who said that they were sexually attacked in the park two Sundays — in Central Park two Sundays ago. You’re a police officer. What’s your response? They also say they — many of them say that the police did not help them.

LISA WHITE: As the circumstances surrounding the Central Park multiple sexual assault incident continue to unravel, Amy, the city at large — at the city at large, we must examine the totality of the incident. This act was clearly a violation of the rights of women and should not be taken lightly. Our organization held a press conference to respond to this public display of violation to a woman’s body.

We believe the blame falls in several areas. The first area is the young men who participated in the assault. There is no rationalization or reason that they can offer to excuse themselves from what had occurred. Each person who participated should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. This statement should not be interpreted as an arrest free-for-all, where the police department arrests all men of color who were in Central Park. We, as law enforcement officers, know that, historically, when men of color commit crime, the police agency are not satisfied until everyone present is arrested. In other cases, they settle for what? For a symbolic arrest to appease the public.

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, hasn’t someone already been exonerated, who was first arrested, falsely accused?

LISA WHITE: Most definitely. But what is also troubling is that one of the young men that came — that was arrested — this is why I feel a part of the blame must be on City Hall. This was clearly a display, in the statement of one of the young men who was arrested — after his release, he stated that he was just having fun. His statement is very telling. What happened in six years that a young man now interprets fun as violating young women’s bodies. The answer may be in the way we have treated young men during the previous six years, the manner in which we have made many of them feel as outcasts and ostracized them from the city at large.

AMY GOODMAN: Officer White, I wanted to ask you what it is like to be a Black woman in the New York Police Department?

LISA WHITE: Well, it relatively is not very easy. First of all, we are not looked upon as a candidate for higher ranks in position. We’re often overlooked, despite our educational skills. And even in certain positions, you still have the hierarchism, wherein others seem — consider you as nothing and still go over your head continuously, even when you’re in position of higher titles.

AMY GOODMAN: In terms of sexual harassment and assault, is their incidents of this in the police department?

LISA WHITE: Most definitely. As a matter of fact, in previous years, there were, to my knowledge, about three women that had came forward. And one had filed a lawsuit and had won that lawsuit that took place. I believe she worked in Midtown North or Midtown South.

AMY GOODMAN: Did it surprise you when you heard the women describing, one after another, how they went up to police officers, some of their clothes ripped off, coming out of the park, and they were brushed off or told to go somewhere else, even when they went to a precinct, found it hard to file a complaint?

LISA WHITE: I don’t — I can’t — I cannot fully understand that. And I am truly trying to comprehend if this truly did happen. I can understand — what I cannot even understand, an officer who even has a sit post, and a gentleman coming up to him and sharing with him that an incident was taking place in Central Park, and even if he had a sit post that he had to man, not calling for additional assistance to investigate the situation. I consider that — what if a partner of his had a situation going on wherein they need additional assistance? Would he have looked at it in the same manner? I believe that officer used poor judgment.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you for being with us, Lisa White, again, a New York City police officer. She is with 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care.

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