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.