I worked for nearly a decade for a municipality, in the parks section. Being a paranoid little bunny as well as a dog walker, public safety was one of my concerns. People often seem to have some kind of blind spot regarding amenity areas: even those who would never visit a deserted parking lot at night are somehow perfectly happy walking around a park in pitch darkness in the early morning, using a risk assessment scale I can’t begin to comprehend. From my point of view, local parks in urban areas make excellent potential crime scenes, combining an abundance of hiding spots, relative isolation, and the near certainty that potential targets will be available. Furthermore, many park visitors, in particular dog walkers and joggers, are so regular you can set your watch by them, and often visit the area regardless of environmental conditions.
All in all, I naively thought that public safety should have been one of our main concerns. It didn’t quite work like that, for a number of reasons. That fact was made pretty damn obvious to me when I started receiving a lot of reports about one of our pocket parks, nestled in the middle of one of our better housing areas.
There were two very different kind of reports. Local female dog walkers reported to me, in confidence, that they were getting increasingly uncomfortable with a male dog walker dogging them around the park. The man would appear as soon as they entered the area, even when they arrived there at odd times. For dog walkers, this is extremely unusual behaviour; we normally walk our dogs around our own schedule. His insistence on walking with them only when they were alone added to the oddness. They spoke to me in my official capacity because I was a fellow female dog walker and they thought I would care and be able to do something; however, as “nothing had happened”, nobody was willing to make an official report.
I reported this to the management. It became very apparent that their main concern was not to increase public safety. They were wholly focused on maintaining the impression of public safety, on ensuring that the public “felt safe” and thought that they were doing a good job. If that meant not taking actions that may save someone, so be it. I was instructed to do absolutely nothing, and in particular not to say anything to anyone that may suggest or confirm that we had a problem.
At the same time, I started getting official reports of public acts of indecency from a local resident. The man would ring our office on a Monday morning and ask for an officer to visit him on site and take his statement. He would then report, in very vivid details, sexual acts that had taken place over the weekend in the park, right where he could see it from his house.
A number of things bothered me about these reports. Firstly, older men are normally not terribly comfortable talking about sex to women young enough to be their daughters. Yet, this guy never made any efforts to either talk to a male officer or spare me any details. However, these details never included any useful identification features, such as car plates or physical descriptions that could allow me to find the culprits without having to ask them to drop their pants. It was also pretty odd that he was witnessing all these activities when his neighbours either side were not reporting anything. Furthermore, repeated mentions that he could indeed call the police while these acts were being committed so they could arrest the people responsible and resolve the problems once and for all elicited no response. He’d do nothing at the time, and then ring us the day after.
After a very short time it became apparent that these reports would happen only when I was on duty. There was never anything of note to report if there were only male officers at work. You may call me paranoid, but I thought this didn’t check out, so I reported it to my boss. He absolutely denied the possibility of our helpful local resident being someone who just enjoyed talking filth to captive young women. It couldn’t possibly be the case, particularly as the guy was working for our CCTV section… so clearly he must be a good guy, hey. There’s absolutely no chance whatsoever that a perv might want to get into a job where he’s snooping on people for a living. None at all.
I have a very limited level of patience for the kind of wilful stupidity that puts me in danger, so I decided to take some steps of my own. I changed the way I was talking to the guy, emitting my loudest and clearest “you’re an asshole and I know it, please do something wrong so I can hurt you” vibe. I also told him that I would have to talk to his wife about these incidents; as she was living in the same house, she may be able to contribute some key evidence to help us solve this matter. I would also be reporting the issue to the local police. Lo and behold, he never reported anything ever again.
The other reports continued, with an increase in occurrence but still nobody willing to make an official report. Nobody wanted “to make a fuss”. They were talking to each other, though, and many took steps to arrange not to go out on their own. However, that wasn’t always possible. Women were more alert, but still largely using the area as before.
A couple of months into this, my partner got a phone call from one of his female friends. She had just defended herself from a sexual assault on that park. It turns out that while a very small dog is no defence whatsoever against a large man, if you break a bag of dog shit on someone’s face it can be enough of a distraction. Anyway, she got away safe but very shaken, she didn’t know what to do, and she was ringing a friend. It didn’t take very long for us to work out that her attacker was our local perv; although she had not seen where he’d come from, her description matched him perfectly. I knew where he lived. Getting this sorted out ought to have been simple.
Now, how you deal with this sort of thing can vary hugely depending on your subculture, role, abilities, inclinations, etc. My partner was all for readjusting the guy’s kneecaps. I am a fragile little petal and unsuited to physical confrontations, so I would have been all for spray painting “pervert” in dayglo paint all over his house and let nature take its course. However, I was not involved just as an individual: this was a work issue. Therefore, neither of those solutions were suitable. I followed protocol and reported the incident to my management and the local police. And that’s where things came to a grinding halt.
The local police could not investigate until the victim made an official statement. The victim didn’t want to come forward to the police as she lived locally and alone, and was afraid of repercussions. She also had no evidence whatsoever that anything had actually taken place because she’d fended the guy off so effectively. It would have been his word against hers on what was ultimately a non-event, and she didn’t fancy sticking her head above the parapet on those odds. Both the police and the parks management could have done a lot by alerting the public and asking anyone who had any information on any problems to come forward, but that would have shattered public confidence.
So nobody did a damn thing. The guy was never investigated, or even questioned. He continued to snoop on people for a living and perv on them in his free time. I don’t know if he ever assaulted anyone again.