String of Sexual Assaults Terrorizes North Austin

Six women have been attacked by a masked man since the end of last year


A sexual assault forensic exam. Victims of sexual assault may visit SafePlace to receive an exam. (Photo by Jana Birchum)

A local, unnamed woman was sexually assaulted in North Austin on Dec. 27. Since then, a masked perpetrator has attacked at least five additional women, all between the ages of 23 and 33. The most recent attack was reported on Feb. 8.

"The perpetrator is quite brazen and bold," said Austin Police Department Lieutenant Gena Curtis at a Feb. 10 press conference. All of the crimes have occurred between the hours of 6am to 9:30pm, several taking place in the afternoon. APD believes the six attacks have all been committed by the same person. "I don't want our community to think that they're safe at any time that doesn't meet these elements. We want our citizens – especially ladies – to be aware of your surroundings at all times," Curtis warned.

The man, described as an English-speaking white or Latino male between 5'7" and 5'9", approaches women from behind, holding a knife to their throats while he gropes them and forces them to the ground. He then rapes the victim, although he has been thwarted in his attempt in some of the attacks. One incident resulted in aggravated robbery.

These vicious assaults have happened in public but empty spaces: outside apartment complexes and in parking lots and stairwells. Five of the six occurred within what APD is referring to as the Triangle, bordered by Northgate Boulevard, Highway 290 near U.S. 183, and Duval Road. The Feb. 8 attempt happened in a neighborhood just off Santa Cruz Drive.

Because the assailant attacks from behind, APD has very limited information on him. "We don't know if he has a car or a bike," said Curtis, who noted that the survivors have only seen him as he ran away. "What we do know is that he's out there in the community being a voyeur."

This type of assault, committed by a stranger to the victim, is rarely heard of in Austin. However, according to SafePlace Dir­ector of Community Advocacy Emily LeBlanc, only 9% of all sexual assaults are reported. "There's a good chance there are assaults we don't know about. That said, when there are strings of violent stranger assaults, law enforcement generally tries to get the word out. Research tells us that most rapists are serial rapists. What makes these stand out is that the rapist is a stranger, violent, and seems to be very patient – lying in wait for his victims." According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) only 18% of rapists are actually masked strangers.

Forensic tests are currently under way with what little evidence the police have collected. In the meantime, Curtis repeatedly stressed that APD has set up a tipline and is asking anyone with information to call in.

While it's important for local women to be extra aware of their surroundings, or "safety plan," as LeBlanc says, it's crucial to remember that rape is never the victim's fault. "I worry that the constant focus on what women can do to stay safe borders on blaming the victim. Jogging alone, wearing headphones, carrying groceries with both hands – these are all things that women should be able to do and still be safe. It is never the victim's fault, regardless of where or when she was jogging or how loud her music was." Both SafePlace and Texas Advocacy Project are available to any and all survivors.

Curtis, however, ended the press conference with a warning. "I will tell you from my personal viewpoint, I'm quite concerned that this predator – not truly knowing what his motivation is – I'm concerned that yes, he is going to get more aggressive."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

rape, Austin Police Department, sexual assault, Gena Curtis, Emily LeBlanc, SafePlace

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