Shocking reports of a spate of rapes and violent sexual assaults in the strongly Irish neighborhood of McLean Avenue and Woodlawn in the Bronx have seen community leaders there take decisive action this week.
This Thursday, November 15 at 7:30 P.M, the Aisling Irish Community Center will host a community information session and a self-defense workshop in response to local concern about the alarming attacks.
According to Aisling Center director Orla Kelleher, the intention is to raise awareness locally and to share information about the ways to protect yourself and your loved ones.
“We want people to know that these attacks are on the increase and to be extremely careful when you’re out socializing,” Kelleher tells the Irish Voice. “We’ve printed safety guidelines and distributed them all over the bars and restaurants in the area.”
The new guidelines ask the community not to go out alone or go home alone at night. When traveling to and from venues choose a reputable taxi company and where possible travel with friends. For safety it’s also better to ask your bar tender to call a taxi and then wait outside the bar until it arrives. Always have your cell phone ready too, Kelleher counsels.
There is anxiety in the community that a number of the attacks were made by a local Irish driver. “That’s why I am making that point,” Kelleher explains. “It has come to the Aisling Centers attention that at least one of the attackers may be Irish. They haven’t been identified to me, but they are known in the community. Whether they know them to be the attacker or not I cannot say.”
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Prosecution of the alleged attackers is being complicated by the concern of undocumented Irish people that they will be deported after stepping forward. “Most of the victims have chosen not to report what occurred because of their legal status,” Kelleher explains. “Even though they know the police are not concerned about a person's legal status. They can’t be convinced. They also fear the legal process here and fear what they might be put through. It has been said and with some degree of fairness that they could become victims all over again if they were they were to press charges.”
No matter how many times they heard that they will not find themselves subject to deportation proceedings after pressing charges, some victims may have actually chosen to return to Ireland rather than deal with the issue.
“I don’t want to frighten the daylights out of people but I do think it’s important they get the message to stay together and watch out for each other.”
When the Irish are out at night all inhibitions can go out the window when they’re enjoying a few drinks, Kelleher adds. “And you think you trust your own. When I say that I mean other Irish people. But we would ask people to be especially cautious because it is know this attacker is Irish.”
The Aisling Center will present an information session on Thursday with a representative from the victim’s assistance services, a representative from the NYPD and then they’ll host a workshop in self-defense. “We would urge everyone in the community to come out on the night. We want to raise awareness of these attackers in the area. We especially hope that anyone who has been the victim of any kind of assault to attend. Our hope is that we can help everyone including friends and family members on how to help and support victims of assault.”
Experienced child minders will be available at the center to provide babysitting services if necessary. In the meantime, the Aisling Center is distributing posters to local businesses to raise awareness of the increased reports of rape and assault being committed in the neighborhood.
“What is particularly disturbing is that these incidents are happening right in this neighborhood,” says Kelleher. “Some of the attackers have been identified by their victims as being Irish born and living in the local community.”