Kathleen Horan, Reporter, WNYC News
Kathleen Horan is a staff reporter for New York Public Radio, covering the neighborhood beat. She also reports 'Reset', an ongoing series documenting police-community relations in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
A spike in sexual assaults — including a rash of high profile cases — has state and local lawmakers calling for harsher penalties against sex offenders and increased support for victims.
“Attacks on women in Central Park and Hudson River Park underscore the need to crack down on sexual predators,” said Council Speaker Christine Quinn on Tuesday, flanked by other elected officials at a city hall press conference.
They are pushing a plan that includes several state-wide initiatives such as increasing penalties for multiple acts of public lewdness. Quinn noted that the crime of public lewdness can ultimately lead to assault and more serious sex crimes. The rape of an elderly woman in Central Park reportedly happened after she photographed her attacker exposing himself. He has also been accused of groping two other women.
Public lewdness is currently a Class B misdemeanor in the state.
“The second time, the tenth time, the one hundredth time you do it, it’s still a class B,” said Peter Vallone, Jr., chair of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee.
The plan also calls on judges to seek the maximum penalty allowed in sex crime cases. But some think that is a step too far.
“To call for maximum sentences across the board is irresponsible” said former prosecutor and current Nassau County based defense attorney Kevin Kearon. ”We have laws in the state of New York that are very serious and tough. Judges have always been given discretion to exercise their judgment and I think it’s very important to note that not every sex offense is the same as every other sex offense.”
Quinn said the council will also be asking Mayor Michael Bloomberg to baseline $1.27 million in funding for the city’s Sexual Assault Response teams, who collect DNA evidence after rapes and counsel victims.
Rapes have increased more than 5 percent citywide so far this year, according to the NYPD.