It’s almost a hazing event for young New York City women: A stranger rubs up against you in the subway. A man reaches out to grab a wad of flesh or give a presumptive pinch.
The apprehension of a suspect in 12 gropings may reassure women of the Upper East Side, where most of the attacks took place. But it also brings to mind an unsettling question: What goes on in the mind of a groper, a grabber, the copper of the free, resented feel?
The suspect, Jose Alfredo Perez Hernandez, 18, of East Elmhurst, a dishwasher at Antonucci Café on the Upper East Side, had not been charged with the assaults last night, authorities said. Experts agreed that the perpetrator of these crimes was particularly brazen to have continued his reign of terrifying touches even after a clear photo of him had been circulated, which led to his detention.
One of two theories might explain the groper’s pervy behavior, said Kimberly Gorgens, clinical associate professor of forensic psychology at Denver University. If a man has early experiences in which fearsome, dangerous events were paired with sexual arousal, he may recreate taboo experiences to achieve sexual gratification.
But it’s also possible, she said, that his behavior is less sexual and more “sensation seeking” - violating social norms just for general kicks. The groper, depicted in police pictures as a young, casually dressed man, could be “breaking the rules and having a class interaction that may not be otherwise available to him,” to satisfy a thrill-seeking need common to criminals who exhibit psychopathic tendencies, said Gorgens.
Misdemeanor sexual assaults, which include groping, grabbing and pinching a persons’s sexual or intimate parts, were down almost 4% this year, with 1,763 such incidents reported in NYC through Aug. 1.
“It’s the type of crime that women are embarrassed by,” and often don’t report, Gorgens said.
Experts differ as to the likelihood of gropers escalating their behaviors.
The groper in the latest rash of attacks is likely insecure, immature and has “serious social deficits," said N.G. Berrill, director of New York Forensic. The perpetrator is probably “not terribly bright,” and resorts to twisted interactions with women to “wield a little bit of power.”
Unlike rapists, who typically have a lot of rage towards women and are sexually excited by inflicting punishment, the groper “probably does not have a girlfriend and is very awkward around women,” in addition to being sexually naive, Berrill postulated. It is important to apprehend all such malefactors, though, said Berrill, because their criminal behavior is reinforced every time they engage in it and aren’t caught.
But for anyone emboldened enough to attack women, “rape is not far behind – at least in their fantasies,” said Stanton Samenow, another forensic psychologist and author of “The Criminal Mind.”
While such criminals do not always escalate their behaviors, many start out small and work their way up to progressively more violent attacks.
Regardless, said Samenow and Berrill, such crimes are disturbing for victims. A woman who is shocked out of her cocoon of safety by being grappled, groped or fondled is left with her life changed, said Samenow: “She can’t trust she’ll be safe again, she has to look around more.”
Colleen Flynn, a midtown recruiter, recalled a friend telling her about being groped in a subway, but being too terrified to confront the perpetrator. However, when the same thing happened to Flynn in a bar, she slapped the malefactor and screamed – exactly the response experts say is required. “It was very violating,” Flynn recounted. “His hand went up between my legs and I turned around and whacked him.”
with Marc Beja