Women across Queens have been gripped by a fear of gropers.
For the past month, female residents of Sunnyside and Woodside have been looking over their shoulders for a predator on pedals.
The neighboring communities are the most recent areas to experience repeated sexual attacks on women by men on bicycles.
Beginning September 15, five women and one 12-year-old girl have reported being groped from behind by a man riding a black mountain bike. The pervert has been described as Hispanic and between the ages of 30 and 40.
Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer joined local elected officials on October 17 on 46th Street and Queens Boulevard in Sunnyside in order to alert the public of the predator’s existence.
“Sunnyside and Woodside are safe neighborhoods but one assault against women is one too many,” said Van Bramer. “We will track down this cowardly criminal and make sure he is punished and put away. We must be vigilant as a community as the 108th Precinct pursues leads in the case.”
The first attack occurred on the morning of September 15, and the most recent incident happened at 8 a.m. on October 7 on 39th Avenue and 46th Street. The suspect reportedly strikes in the same general vicinity, with incidents usually occurring only a few blocks apart, say police.
A full-scale investigation by the NYPD and 108th Precinct is already underway. Police are asking for the public’s assistance in catching the criminal, and a surveillance video, which was taken October 6 and depicts the suspect riding his bicycle down the street, has been released.
“The women of our community should not have to walk through our neighborhoods in fear of being attacked,” said Congressmember Joseph Crowley. “I urge everyone to take a good look at the surveillance tape and contact the authorities if you recognize the suspect, as well as report any suspicious activity.”
Other areas of Queens have also experienced repeated sexual assaults on women in recent months.
According to a law enforcement source, the 114th Precinct arrested a suspect on a bicycle on the morning of October 18 after he reportedly groped a woman at Broadway and 31st Street in Astoria. The police have included the suspect in three lineups to determine whether he is part of a larger pattern of sexual assaults, but have thus far been unable to link him to any other incidents, the source said.
“We must have zero tolerance for the recent rash of groping incidents in our neighborhoods,” said Senator Michael Gianaris, who has introduced legislation that would make the groping of a child a felony requiring mandatory jail time. “In addition to the passage of my bill that would increase penalties for gropers, we must band together as a community to keep our streets safe and free from sexual predators.”
This past summer, 45 women shared their experiences of being groped by male bicycle riders on a blog for Astoria residents. The posts drew the attention of Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr., who teamed with the 114th Precinct to investigate the incidents. Two suspects were eventually arrested and identified by multiple victims as their attackers.
“It concerns me very much,” said Anne Marie Culhane, an Astoria resident, referring to the gropings in her community last summer. “I have a 17-year-old daughter that walks around the neighborhood, so I’m scared for her more than myself. I told her she’s not allowed to walk around alone and if she sees anyone on a bike to go the other way. It’s scary because this guy can do it and you can’t stop him if he’s on a bike and you’re on foot.”
With incidents of sexual assault rising across the five boroughs, the police are on a city-wide groper hunt.
Joshua Flecha, a 32-year-old Astoria resident, was arrested in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn on Monday, October 17 at 2:30 a.m. lurking down the street with his pants unzipped and a pornographic video playing on his cell phone.
Flecha, who was carrying marijuana at the time of his arrest, has been charged with forcible touching and sexual abuse after a woman identified him as the man who attacked her in the Seventh Avenue “F” train station on May 7. He was included in several lineups, but has not yet been charged in relation to any other incidents.