This article appeared in the Standard-Times of New Bedford, Massachusetts, on 4/28/98
Page B6, Opinion; Copyright 1998 by Beth David

Let's not trivialize a serious crime by calling it an 'isolated incident'

If one more person tells me last week's daytime sexual assault in New Bedford is an "isolated" incident, I may have to scream. Read this carefully: The number of times rape occurs in a place makes it no less terrifying or horrifying to the woman raped.

Telling me it's an isolated incident trivializes the seriousness of this crime by implying that it's nothing to worry about simply because you think it won't happen again. You dismiss my fears as irrational with your "I-know-better-than-you" attitude. I've got news for all of you: I will or will not go downtown according to my own needs and conclusions, not because of your weak explanations, or your straw-grasping attempts to downplay rape, or your paternalistic goals of making every inch of the city safe just for me. And I fully expect you to treat this matter seriously even if it only happened once in all the history of human creation.

The scramble to figure out "why" he chose the woman he chose is equally infuriating. It almost seems that the more a man cares about the women around him, the worse he responds to news of a rape. Maybe men think that every woman who hears the news will burst into hysterics and not let men near her, as if the threat of rape is something we never ever think about until they mention it. So they start offering reasons why he did it and how it never happens in that place or at that time of day. What they're really trying to say is, "It couldn't happen to my friend because ... " (pick your reason). Well, I don't buy it.

You can't allay my fears by trying to explain the whys and hows of this one man's choice of a target. Because after all the "reasons" are extracted from his perverted little mind, after hearing all the excuses and justifications from a hundred rapists like him, in thousands of other isolated incidents just like this, the one reason you can count on is that he picked her because she was a woman.

A strange phenomenon occurs with violence against women. The experts have a twisted way of profiling the one assaulted instead of the one committing the assault. We see it in countless studies on domestic violence -- reams of information on what "kind" of woman is battered. And it's true of rape survivors, too -- all kinds of information on what not to do or where not to go because the largest percentage was doing this or going there, or whatever. Makes you wonder what percentage falls into the isolated incident category, doesn't it?

We need to figure out why men are so quick to use violence on women, instead of putting the burden on women by expecting us to avoid situations that should never be dangerous in the first place. The alleged rapist's former boss is the only one who got close to the mark. He said Picanso always blamed other people for his troubles. The ex-boss is an everyday guy with a normal job making a normal observation about an abnormal guy. Maybe the experts should talk to some everyday guys.

We can prattle on about the police or the people on the street that day. New Bedford, it seems to me, did better than many other cities; maybe not as well as some. That's the chance of the draw -- if this person or that person had driven by at that precise moment, he could've/should've/ would've ...

The police couldn't find her in that building, but their rapid response and conscientious efforts scared him away. In some cities they wouldn't have arrived within three minutes. And in some cities, they never would have received a 911 call at all. So, New Bedford did all right -- just not well enough to prevent the tragedy in the first place.

That's all of society's responsibility -- by addressing the roots of violence; by teaching boys to respect girls and women; by teaching all kids that all violence is not only wrong, but won't be tolerated, not even once.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Picanso faces life in prison. I'm not sure of the many little legal quirks that make it true. But I'm glad it is, not only for the sake of the woman with the exceptional powers of observation, but for every other woman who might find herself facing an isolated incident.


Beth David owns YASNY Designs in Fairhaven