Why D.C.’s bicycle groper must be found

Petula Dvorak
Columnist July 16, 2012

Catching Washington’s bicycle groper won’t be easy, but we shouldn’t let our outrage fade until he’s been found.

This is the guy who sexually assaulted a young woman in Dupont Circle last week, in the middle of a bright, sunny summer day, in a nice part of town. He rode past Liz Gorman on his bike, put his hand up her skirt, violated her, then sped off.

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. View Archive

After reporting the attack to police, Gorman, a 25-year-old photographer, blogged about it, describing the man’s orange shirt, mountain bike and dark hat. He laughed through the whole thing, said Gorman, whose account of “walking while female” immediately went viral.

Nearly a week later, the jerk who assaulted her is still out there, looking for his next victim.

Police, who sent five patrol cars to the scene when Gorman called for help, are working the case, but have nothing new to report.


Liz Gorman was sexually assaulted in Dupont Circle on the afternoon of July 11. (Liz Gorman/COURTESY OF LIZ GORMAN)

“We’re not taking this lightly,” 3rd District Cmdr. George Kucik said. These are tough cases to solve, he said, because they happen in an instant, and there is usually little evidence to go on.

“A lot of times in these cases, if you catch him, you catch him right away, like if an officer happens to be right there or someone just grabs him,” Kucik said.

But there are leads that can be followed. The manager at the Carlyle Hotel, where security cameras may have caught the attack on the sidewalk, said police haven’t asked him for any footage yet.

Some people have expressed doubt that Gorman could have been attacked from a passing bike.

But not one reader, whose girlfriend also was assaulted by a bicyclist.

“Pervs have not only the audacity but a lot of skill and accuracy with repeated offense,” wrote this man, who chased his girlfriend’s attacker down, yanked him off the bike and was surprised to see that he was about 14 years old.

“I would not question the mechanics of how Liz Gorman’s [attacker] did it,” he said in an e-mail.

It obviously wasn’t the first time the guy had done this. And, unless he’s stopped, it probably won’t be the last time.

Still, far worse crimes occur every day in the city than what happened to Gorman, as she herself concedes.

But that’s exactly the kind of attitude that got D.C. police in trouble with Human Rights Watch, which is finishing a 16-month investigation that says the department is insensitive and inefficient when it comes to adult sexual assaults.

“Our research indicates that a serious number of sexual assault cases are not being documented,” Sara Darehshori, senior counsel for Human Rights Watch, wrote in a May 30 letter to D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier.

The study showed that often the number of reports at local hospitals is higher than the number of police reports. That means not all victims who come to the hospital are interviewed by police, and plenty of the folks who don’t go to a hospital are blown off.

Lanier lashed back, saying the research was flawed and giving the organization a list of ways in which the department is improving on this front.

But even when sexual assault investigations get the full-court press, they aren’t easy to solve.

Just ask the New York Police Department, where detectives believed they’d found a serial groper who had terrorized at least four women in Manhattan earlier this year.

But Kurt Vanderhoude was not their man. Turns out that Vanderhoude just happened to look like the groper. All the charges were dropped a month after his high-profile arrest.

Despite the obstacles, the D.C. police owe it to Washington’s women to find the guy who groped Gorman.

The attack on her resonated with so many women who’d had similar experiences. Their e-mails to me were painful to read.

They were assaulted while jogging in a Maryland park, riding the Metro, working in their government office. Some reported it and were rebuffed or treated poorly, but most never said a word to anyone.

And that gnawed at them.

“Harkens me back to an assault more than 30 years ago,” one woman wrote. “I was walking to the train station in Gaithersburg, when a well-dressed young man in a brown suede jacket fell into step with me. It was easy to assume he was a fellow commuter.”

The man groped the woman, and she spun around to hit him with her briefcase but missed.

She didn’t report it but kept seeing him at the train station. She switched her routes, ducking, dodging. Several months later, a couple of young girls were sexually assaulted, and someone was arrested.

“I never saw brown-jacket man again, and felt guilt over never reporting the original incident,” assuming it was her attacker who had moved on to the girls, she wrote. She signed her note “Should Have Known Better.”

“The problem with sexual assault is that you remember it not as if it was yesterday, but as if it just happened,” a 66-year-old woman wrote to me.

She, too, was assaulted out in the open, on a busy block of Madison Avenue in New York City.

“I wore a yellow madras shirtwaist dress. Remember madras? The sidewalk was very crowded. I felt a large hand grope my crotch from someone who had seemed to come toward me. Though surprised, I turned around to see who it was as he was continuing on his way — just a crowd of bobbing heads,” she wrote.

It happened in 1963.

“Writing this is cathartic,” she wrote. “I think I’m going to cry.”

This is why we should care. To save every young woman who will be groped, assaulted, attacked or raped by someone who has been getting away with it for years.

Calling them out is about prevention, not just punishment.

Please, if you know anything about the Gorman case or other assaults, call D.C. police at 202-727-3000.

Follow me on Twitter at @petulad. To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.

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