Spotlight on Attacks May Account for Apparent Spike in Sex Assaults, Experts Say

Groping attacks seemingly have spread across the city, with nearly 40 reported attacks in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens over the past few months. But experts and law enforcement officials say this doesn’t necessarily mean there are more sexual assaults occurring on the city’s streets.

"Groping attacks are unfortunately very, very common," said Suzanne Goldberg, director of Columbia University’s Center for Gender and Sexuality Law. "I think it is unlikely that this recent spade of attacks is terribly out of the ordinary. Instead there was some initial reporting and strong media coverage and that has led to more reporting."

In South Brooklyn, 20 women have been attacked since March, according to the police. One was raped in June in Sunset Park, while others were groped.

Early Monday, Joshua Flecha, 32, from Queens, was arrested for criminal possession of marijuana and later picked out of a lineup as the alleged assailant in a May 7 incident involving a sexual assault.

Last week Adolfo Martinez, 26, from Sunset Park, was arrested and charged with sexual abuse and forcible touching in connection to one of those attacks, which occurred on October 10.

The police said they were looking into whether Martinez committed any of the other assaults. They added they are treating all 20 attacks, which occurred on the streets and within the subway system, as a pattern. And they are looking for multiple attackers within that pattern.

In Queens, over the past four weeks, six victims were sexually assaulted, including a 12-year-old girl. The police said the suspect in these cases is a Hispanic man, between 30 and 40 years old. He usually approaches women on a black mountain bike, grabs their buttocks or breasts, and then flees.

In August a man allegedly responsible for a similar series of attacks on the Upper East Side was apprehended. Jose Alfredo Perez Hernandez, 18, was charged with burglary, sexual abuse and forcible touching in three out of 12 groping attacks that happened between May and August.

When asked about what could be causing this seeming spike in groping attacks, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said that, next to increased awareness and better reporting, it could also be the work of copycats.