New York City is about as safe a place as it has ever been, with sharp decreases in nearly all serious offenses — except sex crimes.
Misdemeanor sex crimes, such as groping and other unwanted sexual contact, have steadily risen in the last decade across the five boroughs, especially in rapidly gentrifying areas like Harlem. That appears unlikely to change anytime soon. Recent police statistics indicate that these cases, which are often hard to solve, will not slow down in 2017. The police have arrested suspects in just over half of the incidents reported last year.
Reports of sex crimes have jumped more than 12 percent citywide since 2007, to nearly 5,000 last year, according to the New York Police Department. Reports are also up more than 15 percent so far this year when compared with the same period in 2016. By contrast, the rates of felonies such as murder, rape and grand larceny have dropped.
Councilwoman Vanessa L. Gibson, who leads a committee on public safety, said the number of reported misdemeanor sex crimes might have spiked because women had begun to feel more comfortable coming forward. “Over time, if it happens to you more than once, you get fed up and you want to report it,” she said. “It’s behavior we no longer have to tolerate.”
However, not all women are likely to speak up. Most women in New York would say that they have experienced some form of sexual harassment, even if they have not reported it, said Mary Haviland, executive director of the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault. “It’s absolutely something that still has to be dealt with,” she said.
Harlem has been hit particularly hard. The five police precincts that patrol the neighborhood have received 86 complaints about sex crimes this year, an increase of more than a third from the same period in 2016. Central Harlem alone has had a 350 percent increase in the last seven years. In Bushwick, a once industrial stretch of northern Brooklyn that has also seen a boom in new residents and construction, misdemeanor sex crimes are up almost 75 percent, with 31 reported so far this year.
A suspect generally gropes a woman and then flees, making it difficult for the victim to identify the attacker, said Vincent Del Castillo, an associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former chief of the New York City Transit Police.
“It’s a situation where the police officer has to be on the scene at the time of the crime to make an arrest,” he said. “It’s hit and miss.”