Common Sense on Both Ends

NEW YORK--Chances are, by now you've heard about the Central Park attacks during the Puerto Rican Day Parade--and probably forgotten about them too. Let me refresh your memory: Near the end of the June 11 parade, more than 50 women were sprayed with water, groped, robbed and in some cases sexually assaulted by a gang of men in a crowded Central Park in broad daylight, while police officers allegedly looked on and refused to help the victims.

The news is almost two weeks old, but every one of the millions of people in New York City is still reminded of it daily in the newspapers. Besides receiving the spin cycle from advocacy groups and public relations officers, the incident has been cast in every imaginable light on editorial pages of the city's four major competing papers. But the viewpoint conspicuously missing from this media field day has been, ironically, the one that would be most relevant: The viewpoint of the attacks' very victims, young females.

Not one column I've seen has been written by a young woman. Newspaper columnists--staff and guest--tend to be older, and they tend to be male. In their search to find an explanation for the attacks, what these pundits come up with is a sense of rage. The world should not be this way, they decry. No woman should ever have to fear for her personal safety.

All this is true--who would dispute it? But it strikes me as rather obvious. In part because they are viewing the situation from outside, these would-be analysts stop short of the how and why. In the past two weeks, I've seen dozens of mandates for change, but few suggestions for how this change should come about, or even what's behind the current state of affairs.

Now, I know I don't speak for all young women, and so can't pretend to represent the assault victims any more than the columnists I've criticized. But hopefully I can at least lend a fresh perspective to the media melee, being a 21-year-old female known to wear tight pants or a tube top now and then.

Now, a few weeks ago, my stepmother decided to give me advice on spending the summer in New York City. The number-one precaution I could take against getting raped, she said, was to avoid wearing skimpy clothing. I immediately bristled at her comment, for two reasons. The first was a knee-jerk response to the fact that she seemed to be invoking the argument that rape victims somehow "ask for it." But the second--and the one I felt more vehemently about--was the fact that I'm the proud owner of more than a few cute little sundresses, I wasn't going to let safety precautions get in the way of my looking good.

So I argued with her, whipping out the oft-cited adage that the most likely assault victim is a woman who is unsure of herself, who looks vulnerable, who visibly lacks self-confidence and assurance. Her response?

"I'll remember that when they find you dead in a spaghetti-strap dress."