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Assaults in N.Va. by Man in Ski Mask Instill Alarm

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By Bill Brubaker and Daniela Deane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, February 3, 2008

Early Monday evening, a recently widowed legal assistant for the Social Security Administration stepped off the 28A bus on Route 7 in Fairfax County to begin her daily half-hour walk home.

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About two blocks from her house, the 63-year-old woman was grabbed from behind on a dark residential street by a man wearing a ski mask. It was the second time she had been attacked on Allan Avenue in three months.

This time, the woman tried to kick the attacker. Silently, he began pulling off her clothes as she screamed, "Help! Help! Help!" but no one was around. The woman said her pantyhose were almost off when a car drove by, prompting the man to flee. She ran the rest of the way home, frightened that he would return.

"I have been walking on this road for 38 years," said the woman, whose name is being withheld because The Washington Post does not identify victims of sexual assault. "But my walking days are over around here. And I don't care if it's day or night."

The incident was the latest in a wave of 10 assaults against women -- most of them sexual -- that has swept through Alexandria and Fairfax since August, most committed by a man wearing dark clothes and a ski mask, according to police.

Individually, these crimes are not unusual. Serious, to be sure, but unremarkable on the police blotters in such large metropolitan areas as the Washington region, investigators say. Police said none of the women suffered a serious physical injury.

Taken together, though, the assaults have focused attention on just how routine, and often life-changing, sex-related crimes against women are. In the Washington region, police reported more than 2,000 incidents in 2006 alone, the most recent year for which all local jurisdictions have compiled statistics, a Washington Post survey found. Police departments record sex offenses differently, but the statistics included rapes, sexual assaults, sexual battery and indecent exposure as well as peeping Tom cases.

"Dangerous. Demented. Evil. That's what you need to know about the type of person that committed these crimes against women," said Carroll Ann Ellis, director of victim services for Fairfax police. "But people need to know that these crimes do go on every day and that we should all be outraged when they occur."

Sometimes, it takes a serial criminal to grab the attention of media organizations and, in turn, the public, authorities said last week as they continued their search for a suspect, or perhaps suspects.

"If only one case had occurred, maybe the public would not have had as much interest because 'it's not occurring in my neighborhood,' " said 2nd Lt. Brenda Akre, supervisor of Fairfax's sex crimes unit. "But with a serial case, people are thinking: 'Hey, he initially started striking in this area, and now he's over here. Could my neighborhood be next?' "

Akre's answer is blunt and, she acknowledged, not especially reassuring: "Oh, I believe he could strike again. Most definitely."

Nabbing the attacker will be challenging, largely because the victims did not get a good look at him, Akre said. One victim described him as white; another said he was black. One said he was a 6-footer; another said he stood 5-foot-1. What's more, most of the incidents occurred in darkness, in the early morning or evening.


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