A woman was robbed and raped last week while bird-watching in Central Park. While any and every incident of rape is disturbing in itself, there are two additional unsettling details surrounding this particular attack: it occurred in broad daylight and the victim was 73 years old.
The victim knew her attacker; after she spotted the man nine days earlier publicly masturbating in the park, she snapped a photo and reported the indecency to a park ranger. The subsequent rape seemed to be an act of revenge, as the man asked, “Do you remember me?” before commencing his attack.
Though the assailant had a motive this time around, the incident was only one of many on his long rap sheet involving violence against elderly women. This raises the question – why elderly women? Of course, we all wonder why rape ever occurs. Society has mustered up a few theories, especially to explain the rape of young women: preoccupation with sex, pleasure, or, my favorite, that women, in some way, asked for it because we dress provocatively. But the rape of elderly women doesn’t comport with society’s explanations. There’s a widespread cultural stereotype that women over the age of 60 are not “attractive or desirable.” While this notion is entirely untrue (Farrah Fawcett was 62 and beautiful when she died), it could have faired well for elderly women in many ways. For example, given this notion, one would not expect women in this age group to remain as targets of sexual violence and rape. But they are.
In August, a man was found guilty of sexually assaulting a 77-year-old woman in Pennsylvania. In England, another man was recently charged with three counts of rape but police believe that he is responsible for more than 200 sexual assaults on women between the age of 68 and 89.
A 2009 report conducted by the National Institute of Justice yielded that approximately half of one percent of Americans over the age of 60 reported incidents of sexual assault within the previous year. Statistically, this is quite a low number. I agree with the experts, though, that people in this age group, especially women, simply don’t report acts of sexual assault or violence. They believe that police will not or cannot help them.
My question is, if elderly women in the United States do not feel that they can trust their police officers and rape investigation units, and thus do not “bother” to report incidents of violence, how many more women throughout the world feel the same way? My concern is for women in those countries – the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Sudan – where females are notoriously regarded as inferiors, where violence against women is frequently witnessed yet frequently ignored.
As a side note, who masturbates in Central Park?!
Article Access: The Daily Beast
For more on rape statistics: UN Secretary-General’s Campaign Unite to End Violence Against Women