• Thu, Sep 13 2012

Lenore Skenazy Of Free Range Kids Says Daytime Rape Is ‘Unusual’

Lenore Skenazy was the focus of an Anderson Live segment today on various parenting approaches. I sat in the audience for the taped segment in which Anderson Cooper interviewed the free range advocate on her notorious $350 class in Central Park. While the cameras were definitely there capturing those who shelled out for the free range experience, somewhere else in the park, a 73-year-old woman was raped in broad daylight. Anderson presented the newspaper headlines to the audience when asking the mother to address the case. After sharing with us that she hadn’t heard about the news until this morning, she described the situation as “unusual.” Since the light of day does not act as a powerful protectorate against rape, Skenazy’s description is offensively inaccurate and a dangerous mythology to perpetuate about rape — especially with regards to the safety of children.

Like the majority of rape survivors, the 73-year-old bird watcher had been previously acquainted with her attacker prior to the assault. New York Daily News reports that on a previous bird-watching excursion, the woman had “inadvertently photographed” the suspect while he was masturbating in an overgrown area of the park. Yesterday, a week later, she was apparently testing out new camera lenses when the suspect “dragged her into the brush and brutalized her just steps away from the tourists and sun worshippers gathered at tranquil Strawberry Fields.”

While the scenario of a woman getting sexually assaulted in the middle of the day may seem wildly rare given the various pillars, and influence, of rape culture, the data tells us otherwise. The majority of reported rapes in the United States do happen in the night (55% according to a 2010 Bureau of Justice Statistics). But a 2008 Bureau of Justice Statistics cites daytime rapes (between the hours of 6 am and 6 pm) as 42% of all rapes reported. That’s hardly a minority or even “unusual” for that matter.

This rape is the first reported of the year in Central Park and there were apparently only two reported rapes in the park in 2011. Such context might also account for this incident being described as “unusual” by Anderson’s controversial guest, but not when you consider that the 73-year-old victim didn’t even report her rape. New York Daily News writes:

The woman didn’t report the incident to police.

Police snagged surveillance photos of the alleged attacker leaving the park carrying what appears to be the woman’s backpack.

Another fellow birdwatcher by the name of  Eric Ozawa found the woman after the attack, describing her as “swollen” and with a “badly bruised” eye. She confessed to Eric that she had been raped. Police reportedly arrived later.

Had surveillance cameras not grabbed these images, would the 73-year-old survivor have even reported it? Statistically, she wouldn’t have. Most rapes in the United States go unreported, meaning that I wouldn’t be comfortable calling the older woman’s assault “unusual” for Central Park either.

Such a gross miscalculation of the facts of rape is particularly concerning given how outspoken Lenore, a self-professed “safety geek,” is in her noted hands-off approach to childrearing. It’s scary assumptions like Lenore’s that pose a true threat to our children’s safety as well as our own. Falsehoods about the circumstances of rape, as perpetuated through unfounded warnings about clothes or who your attacker could be, consistently misinform kids about their safety – an ultimate disservice to Lenore’s credo of cultivating independence in children. She defines free range parenting on her website as  “a common sense approach to parenting,” even going so far as to define the type of child for us:

“A Free-Range Kid is a kid who gets treated as a smart, young, capable individual, not an invalid who needs constant attention and help.”

Yet, raising smart and capable children ultimately entails being honest about the dangers he or she will confront, not repeating one of the many fictions that continue to define rape in this country. And on national television no less. Being realistic about your child’s safety also means being truthful about the pervasiveness of rape, an oddity considering Lenore is pleased to declare how much crime has dropped here in New York City — both on Anderson Live and on her website.

Understandably, dropping off your kids to hang around unattended for an hour and a half may be a gray area for many parents. But making sweeping generalizations about what keeps our kids safe from rape is very black and white.

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  • http://twitter.com/justhypatia hypatia arez

    Ok, from reading the article I can see you obviously have a beef with Ms. Skenazy’s parenting approach. She was, however, correct in her statement that getting raped in Central Park in the middle of the day is a relatively rare thing.

    You stated yourself, two reported attacks in all of 2011, at any time of day. Do you realize how many people enter Central Park in a year? 35 million.

    Even if we say only a tenth of victims go to the police, leaving 9 out of 10 unreported, that still leaves just about lottery chances of being sexually assaulted in that park. Staggering odds of about 0.0000006%.

    Not comfortable with those kinds of odds when it comes to your kids? That’s your decision, but that doesn’t make it common.

  • Lawcat

    The “time of day” statistic is certainly a portion, but not an entirely accurate comparison considering I believe she was taking into account other factors (although, perhaps not verbalizing them). A statistic noting the time of day coupled with the location (public, private home, etc) would be more telling of the risks to children’s safety.

    65% of rapes/sexual assaults/threats were reported at home, a
    friend/relative’s home, or school, while 7.2% of rapes were reported in a
    park, playground, etc.

    Does the statistic adjust for DLST? It’s dark here now at 7:00am, whereas a month ago the sun rose around 6-6:30.

    Additionally, the statistic you reported includes sexual assault and “threats of rape,” not entirely just rape.

    • Lisa

      Thank you for this!! I seriously doubt Lenore was trying to say that rape doesn’t usually happen during daytime hours, but that it rarely happens in broad daylight in public.

  • http://fairlyodd.net Frances Bean

    I find this somewhat insulting to Lenore, someone I have had the honor of meeting as I’m from her neighborhood. The vast majority of rape and child molestation occurs by someone known to the victim. The truth of the matter is that a child of 9 or 10 isn’t in any more danger than anyone else when it comes to walking home from school or playing in the neighborhood park.
    Stranger rape in a crowded NYC park IS unusual. And according to news stories, including some facts you just mentioned, the man who did this knew the victim here and held a grudge against her. I agree with Lenore on a lot of points, especially the idea that if you want to protect your children from rape or molestation you should start at home, where the majority of these things happen.

    I’m surprised at your attitude as I normally look forward to your articles as you take a direct approach when it comes to combating rape culture which I greatly appreciate as a survivor of sexual assault and as a parent. But as a survivor I’m not going to turn every mention of rape into a reason to hide myself or my kids away. Children have more of a chance of dying in a car accident than being raped in a public park in the middle of the day. They have more of a chance of being struck by lightening!

  • CW

    Forcible assaults by strangers are, in fact, relatively rare (only 4% of all cases). A majority of rapes (55%) are cases where the victim was too intoxicated to legally give consent. Illegal and immoral, yes, but that’s a very different kind of situation than the case of the elderly Central Park victim.

  • Mel

    Daytime rape is unusual, huh? I wish someone would have told that to the bastard that molested me in elementary school. Maybe that would have been a deterrent.

    • http://www.xojane.com/author/eve Eve Vawter

      Oh word. sorry you went through that :(

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  • K.

    I can’t tell from reading this article exactly what Skenazy was claiming is unusual. It doesn’t sound like she was saying the time of day was unusual; it sounded like she was saying that getting raped by a stranger in daylight in Central Park is unusual. And as your own statistics say, it IS–2 rapes in 2011? Even if that’s conservative given the number of rapes that go unreported, the percentage of those who were raped in Central Park among all visitors (which is what? half a billion in a year?) has got to be miniscule. Doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen; it does mean that it’s indeed “rare.”

    I doubt that Skenazy would say daylight itself offers some kind of protection from rape or molestation or kidnapping–most reasonable people would not say something like that (and when it comes to kids in particular, I would say that the incidents might go UP in daylight simply by virtue of the fact that more kids are out in public during the daytime versus nighttime).

    Look, if you have issues with “free-range” parenting (and even I don’t know what that is exactly, but I can glean from the article what it entails), then offer a rational critique. But don’t use this tragedy–which by all accounts seems to be a horrific, but also random coincidence–to ratchet up sensationalist media scare tactics. It’s one thing to have a cogent discussion about the risks and benefits of “free-range” parenting, but it’s another to use a single incident to criticize the philosophy as a whole. That’s like saying because one child out there had a nutritional deficiency due to a vegan diet, no child should ever be raised vegan or something.

  • http://www.facebook.com/speartrask99 Christine Spear Trasko

    I was at that same tping and that woman obviously has something wrong with her. I wonder what she would do if it was her child abducted, bt ofcourse, it always happens to “someone else”. And if she thinks it’ so wonderful to leave children alone in central park, why did she have all the parents sign a waver first?

  • koolchicken

    Daytime rape in public rare? Spoken like a person who’s never been raped…

    God help her children, cause no one else will. :(

  • wendykh

    but that’s what she *did* say.

    • missminute

      It’s not. She said, “a rape in New York … park….” but was talked over.

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  • Karen Milton

    Daytime rape in public by a stranger IS rare. I’ve been raped. Am I allowed to say that?