In early July, Washington, DC resident Liz Gorman was sexually assaulted in DC’s Dupont Circle. The next day Liz, who immediately reported the incident to the Metropolitan Police Department, wrote about her experience on the Collective Action for Safe Spaces blog. By Friday, the post had set off a viral reaction, both locally and nationally. Fast forward to late August and we have some good and bad news.
The Good News: After Liz and then four other women reported the alleged assailant, the DC Police looked for him and found him.
“The police did interviews, took statements, watched hours of security video until they froze the frame there — right there! — and found the jerk on the bike, his victim screaming next to him.
Then they caught the guy they believe is responsible for the attacks. Oscar Mauricio Cornejo-Pena even told them: Yup, he did it. He was a most helpful suspect, even offering up some crimes the cops didn’t know about.
“He admitted that he committed numerous similar offenses, possibly eight or more,” according to the charging documents drawn up by Officer Alexander MacBean.”
Thank you, DCPD! This story illustrates just how often harassers are repeat offenders. Most people don’t harass others, but some people harass a lot of other people.
The Bad News: He wasn’t charged for assaulting Liz, only the other four women. Plus, his conviction is pretty weak.
“He was charged with “misdemeanor sexual abuse (with aggravating circumstances),” which, according to D.C. Official Code, is punishable by jail time of “not more than 180 days, and, in addition, may be fined in an amount not to exceed $1,000.”
That means that terrorizing women who are walking down the street, roughing them up and grabbing their privates gets you the same punishment as attending a cockfight, impersonating a police officer, trespassing on someone’s lawn or selling a fake Gucci purse.
In the District, sentencing guidelines say that a person who breaks into a vending machine or a parking meter should get more jail time (up to three years) and pay a bigger fine (up to $3,000) than a sociopath who violates women on the street….
The truth is, he’s probably not going to get any real jail time, said Chai Shenoy, a lawyer who specializes in sexual assault and who runs a group in the District, Collective Action for Safe Spaces.
Of the cases she has taken on, the ones where women are groped on Metro, violated on the street or attacked in their neighborhoods, she has never had a criminal conviction for that type of street harassment.
“We applaud the police for taking the crimes seriously, using their resources and working hard to make an arrest,” she said. “But it’s a double-edged sword. We want police to take these crimes seriously, we want prosecutors to take these crimes seriously and then, at the end of the day, we have sentencing guidelines that won’t provide justice.”
And that’s what we’re up against. Even if/when we report harassers and even if/when the police take it seriously and find them, the penalties are pretty weak. So, it can make you wonder if it’s even worth the time or energy. As hard as prevention is, it’s going to be the best way to stop street harassment for the next generation.Share on Facebook