Imagine, for a moment, the raw sensuality of the female foot. Slender and smooth, its gentle curves both entice and arouse. To slide one's fingers across the firm, rounded heel and up into that ticklish valley of ecstasy--perfection! And who can resist the ten most erogenous zones of the female form: the toes, each a powder keg of sexual tension, each begging to be fondled, caressed, sucked and stroked until...
Such images of feet probably dance through the head of at least one Harvard student: a red-haired fellow known to his prey as the dastardly "Shoe Rapist." He creeps among the bookshelves in Lamont and Cabot libraries, seeking out unsuspecting women and playing tricks to get his feet in their shoes.
The stories of the victims follow a simple pattern. They sit down to study, slip out of their shoes to get more comfortable and, before they figure out what's happening, the man has maneuvered his feet into their loafers, heels or pumps.
Amber K. Lavicka '02 still remembers the series of events that led to her Lamont nightmare. It started out innocently enough. The man first stood near her study carrel, and eventually sat down across from her. But then Lavicka realized the funny business that was going on. "He moved his feet in an arc, feeling the ground for my shoes," she describes. "He kept moving closer and closer, until I got really freaked out and grabbed my shoes."
Lavicka is not alone. Elnaz F. Firoz '02 also had a creepy Lamont experience. Curled up with her psych book during reading period, Firoz took her shoes off. "I fiddle with them," she explains. Just a little while later, she saw the suspicious character pass by her cubicle--several times--and take a seat in the carrel in front of her. Firoz decided not to let the sketchiness bother her and continued toying with the shoes. But after sliding her feet in and out of the openings, she noticed her shoes felt several sizes too big. "I thought I was playing with mine, but I was playing with his," she shrieks. Her sneakers began on her side of the carrel, but somehow migrated to the man's feet. And his shoes were perfectly pointed in front of her feet, just waiting for her to slide in her socked foot.
At first Firoz thought she must have somehow taken his shoes by accident, and apologized profusely before returning them. However, after hearing of similar stories from friends, she began to wonder. "He must have kicked them over to his side," she realizes.
When Kirsten M. Boike '01 came foot-to-foot with the "Shoe Rapist" last year, she was aware of everything occurring. Like so many of the other survivors, she had gone to Lamont to study when the man took a seat in the cubicle next to hers. But cautious Boike turned to look in the window and caught the reflection of the scoundrel slinking to her shoes. "I kept seeing him looking down and doing suspicious things," she recalls. For a solid half-hour, Boike observed as the man worked his feet over her side. "I was too weirded out to do anything. I just kept reading and looking in the window," she says.
Eventually, just like Firoz, she found his shoes pushed in front of her. "I don't know if he wanted me to stick my feet into them," she wonders. As the man left the fourth floor, Boike saw that he didn't even have any books with him. But the more disturbing discovery was yet to come. "One of [the shoes] was all warm, so he definitely put on the shoe," she reasons.
Since the traumatic incident, Boike has kept an eye out for other offensive behaviors. Boike and her friends spied on him in Lamont and watched him perform his act in the main reading room. "It was very obvious," she says. She ran into him again in the Quincy Qube and he wouldn't move his gaze from her feet. "He didn't look at me, he just looked at my shoes."
While detailing the "Shoe Marauder's" m. o. is simple, explaining his behavior is considerably harder. Dr. Martin P. Kafka, a Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School specializing in sexual fetishism, says it's possible the man finds shoes and feet sexually stimulating. "There are men who will take shoes, sniff shoes and get sexually aroused by doing it," he explains. "Usually what they do is they collect shoes and they masturbate."
Victims of the attacks say the assailant tended to be blatant. Certainly there must be more private places than the library for him to indulge in his pleasures. However, an element of risk is completely consistent with the idea of a fetish according to Kafka. "[The risk] is part of the rush that he gets and preoccupies him, but also gives him temporary relief from whatever's troubling him," he says.
The most effective form of treatment, Kafka says, generally takes the form of aversive conditioning. "They'll find a behavioral therapist who will draw up scenarios that will arouse the patient, but as soon as that happens, the patient smells ammonia," he explains.
Until he is caught and put into psychiatric care, women have to face these ordeals alone. But those who have survived unscathed say they've grown. "I'm just a lot more aware now," Boike declares. "He must be stopped."