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Rutgers University students Natalie Settimo (left), Rachel Mayer (center), and Abby Szpekman (right) protest with NOW-NYC

Braving the bitter cold, a group of about 18 protestors stood in front of the 94th precinct in Greenpoint Brooklyn with signs in hand and a message for the precinct: Take all rape seriously. Precinct Captain Peter Rose made a statement on Friday to dnainfo.com downplaying the severity of acquaintance rape, even though his precinct saw a 62% uptick in sexual assaults and attacks in 2016 (13 attacks in total — 11 being acquaintance rapes).

While explaining why the precinct had more attacks in 2016 and why so many of them went without any arrests, Captain Rose had this to say: "It really becomes a balancing act for the investigators. Some of them were Tinder, some of them were hookup sites, some of them were actually co-workers. It's not a trend that we're too worried about because out of 13 [sex attacks], only two were true stranger rapes."

After being contacted about Captain Rose’s statement, the National Organization for Women NYC, or NOW, quickly put together a protest in response. “We all took the Pledge of Allegiance when we were in school, right? And the last few words are 'liberty and justice for all' — and that includes women,” says New York City New York State NOW board chairperson Jodi Polson. The group and their protesters had a goal to set the record straight about acquaintance rape and the fact that is the more common form of rape — nationally, only about 14% of rapes are committed by strangers, according to a 2012 report from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With TV crews aimed at the makeshift podium set up across the street from the 94th precinct, NOW NYC President, Sonia Ossorio led protesters in chanting “Rape is a real crime. Rapists should do real time,” and addressed the public, saying “It is a prejudice that stands between countless sexual assault victims and justice and public safety.”

During the protest and in a press release from NOW NYC, the organization lists demands from the 94th precinct which include reopening the ten rape and sexual assault cases that had gone unsolved, and releasing arrest numbers and incident reports to “identify whether this egregious 0-for-10 statistic in the 94th precinct is an anomaly or the norm.” The list also includes the need for a department-wide plan to evaluate current procedures and ensure that acquaintance rape is taken seriously and a commitment from the entire department that acquaintance rapes be treated as real rapes and to lead sexual assault cases with belief in the victim.

In NOW NYC’s press release, Jane Manning, Director of Advocacy for NOW-NYC's partner organization, Women's Justice NOW said, "An apology was warranted, but an apology doesn't fix the problem. The police want victims to come forward and report rape, but how are victims going to feel confident that their reported rape will be taken seriously when the commanding officer of a police department says some rapes are less serious? New York City women deserve accountability and a close examination of the NYPD to determine whether the 94th precinct is an anomaly or part of a larger, more systemic problem."

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NOW-NYC President Sonia Ossorio (center) holds a sign standing alongside NOW-NYC's director of Advocacy Jane Manning (right).

Protesters, standing side by side in unity behind Ossorio, ranged from New Jersey college students to Greenpoint natives. Krista Chambers, a resident of Williamsburg, came out in the frigid weather with her infant daughter, Tegan, snuggled tight to her chest to protest with NOW. “It was a no-brainer to come,” she says. “I’m always now thinking ahead a little bit since I’ve had her [her daughter], so to be able to come and potentially fight for change that would impact her lifetime was big.”

While Chambers looked to protesting as a means to better her daughter’s future, Helen Mena reflected on the past. Mena, a Greenpoint native living in the area for 43 years, says she just happened to stumble upon the protest. “After like seven, seven-thirty I don’t leave my house,” Mena says as she explains the changing lack of safety in her neighborhood, adding, “I’m scared, I never was scared to be in this neighborhood until recently,” Mena says that she doesn’t see the police doing as much as they should when it comes to sexual assaults and attacks. The issue of acquaintance rape hits close to home for Mena, who just recently learned that a friend of hers was raped by someone they knew.

NOW NYC has requested a meeting with Police Commissioner James O’Neil to "provide clarity and transparency" and to "create a plan to overhaul the NYPD’s handling of sexual assault cases." As of now, Police Commissioner O’Neil has not responded to their request.

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Krista Chambers and her daughter Tegan join NOW NYC in front of the 94th Precinct.

NOW NYC’s show of strength and support for rape and sexual assault survivors and their push for the NYPD to take all rape seriously is an inspiration to activists everywhere. As NOW membership and outreach manager Melissa Quesinberry said, “Even though this is a large city, we’re all connected,” and that goes beyond New York City — as women and humans, we are all connected and need the support of one another to make a statement like this one.

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