Workers in Richmond erased spray-painted stencils this week that purportedly marked rape sites in the city's Fan district as antirape activists decried the anonymous artwork.

"Increasing awareness is one thing, but this is not the way to go about it," said police Lt. Herbert Nichols. "This is such a high-impact thing. It's instilling fear instead of increasing awareness."

The stylized silhouettes of a figure sprawled on the ground with the caption, "A woman was raped here. Be alert. Awareness is prevention," appeared Tuesday at about a dozen locations in the residential district that draws its name from the configuration of streets bordering it. Nichols said not all those locations have been sites of rapes, "not in the last two years . . . . Maybe in the last 10 years."

Frederick E. Hughes, chief of maintenance operations in the Department of Public Works, said a cleanup crew usually assigned to scrub graffiti from city property was working on the dozen stencils reported so far.

The stencils appeared as the YWCA and Virginians Aligned Against Sexual Assault are preparing for Rape Awareness Week, which starts Sunday. Activities include panel discussions of a film about rape and information booths at shopping malls.

"We are receiving calls from people in the community who think we are putting those drawings on the sidewalk," said Cindy Eckenrod, communications director for the YWCA. "Needless to say, that is not our style."