On May 18th at 5:41am, someone robbed a store at the corner of 18th
and Castro. A week earlier, at 18th and Sanchez, there was a strong arm
robbery on the street at 2:30am. And at 1:45am on May 9, there was a
mugging involving bodily force at Market and Sanchez.
an average rate of crime in the epicenter of the LGBT community, where
every week there’s a handful of robberies, simple assaults, car
break-ins, and occasionally a narcotics arrest.
But in those
routine city-life crimes, there’s a subtle pattern of a particular type
of crime for which LGBTs are particularly at risk; and although it’s
avoidable, many victims unwittingly put themselves directly in harm’s
way. Complicating matters further, victims are often reluctant to
contact the police.
It’s a crime known as “hook-up
violence,” and although it’s always been a problem, several unrelated
factors have recently converged to exacerbate risks in the Castro.
AS FREQUENT — BUT NOW MORE VIOLENT
violence is, as it sounds, a crime involving what the victim thinks is a
casual sexual encounter. Sometimes, the hook-up is simply used as a
pretext to lure a victim; other times, it begins as a run-of-the-mill
meeting before one or both parties become violent with each other.
Umezu is Membership Director at Communities United Against Violence,
which for 30 years has worked to prevent and respond to violence in the
queer community. “Across the nation, there has been an increase in
hook-up violence or pickup violence,” she said. CUAV keeps close tabs on
crime statistics released by police departments, and closely monitors
reports made to their own 24-hour safety line.
Paul, founder of The Castro Community on Patrol, agreed. “Over the last 6
months, there has been a little bit more.”
founded the Castro
Street Patrol in 2006 in response to a series of sexual assaults
firearm confiscated at the Castro Street Fair. Curbing hook-up
violence was a top priority for CCOP, and with their bright orange
jackets and regular presence, the group has maintained a high visibility
in the neighborhood since its inception. Operating on a $20,000 yearly
grant, the organization patrols from 9:15pm to midnight on Fridays and
Saturdays, as well as randomly during the week from 7pm to 10pm.
we started the patrols, the violence was more hardcore,” said Carlton
“there were reports of three unconfirmed rapes in four months. The
patrol was about hook-up violence.”
It’s not just the
incidence of crimes that’s been edging up — the severity has increased
“I’ve studied the crime metrics for a couple
of years now,” said Greg Carey, Chair of the CCOP. “Statistically,
there’ve been about twelve assaults a month in the Castro, which to me
is a large number. … I think it’s more of a case where people doing
the robberies are more violent than in the past, when they would just
demand that the person would just turn over their belongings.”
other words, he said, crimes aren’t just becoming more frequent —
they’re becoming more violent.
Damian Ochoa, a social
worker who works with the Patrol, described some recent crimes. “There
has been an increase in smash and grab, theft, and muggings,” he said.
“So many people go to the Castro to party, and they don’t realize all
the things they need to do to stay safe.”
CAUSES, PREDICTABLE VICTIMS
The Castro is an area
particularly sensitive to fluctuations in crime rates, in part because
its residents are disproportionately targeted. CCOP founder Carlton Paul
recalled a meeting with former Police Chief Heather Fong in which the
Chief explained that Asian women and drunk gays are “perceived to be a
“I think that what we’re seeing now has
something to do with rage and the economy,” said CCOP Chair Greg Carey.
“What I’ve been hearing is that people are losing smart phones,
backpacks that might have laptops in them.”
have recognized that they can easily attract victims by posing as a
potential hook-up. A
report last month from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs
reported a national rise in hook-up crimes that range from sexual
assault to robbery to drugging to even murder.
cause of these statistical increases in violent crime are unclear, but
the economy is frequently cited as a contributing factor.
see an indirect relationship between crime and confidence in the
economy,” said Theresa Sparks, former President of the San Francisco
Police Commission. Although some CCOP members have observed a rise in
hook-up violence, Theresa expressed optimism about reversing the trend.
“The SFPD says overall crime is down in the city. Rape for instance is
up, but overall violent crime is down. … If the economy’s starting to
pick up, which some people suggest it may be, it would have an indirect
impact on crime.”
Indeed, the SFPD’s statistics on rape
in the Metro Division — which includes the Castro — show a
17 percent increase over the first quarter of last year. Citywide,
rape is up from 33 incidents at this time last year to 44 in 2010; violent
crime is up as well, from 1,658 to 1,748.
for violent crimes are down 12 percent.
precise numbers readily available is a new phenomenon, thanks to Police
Chief George Gascon’s implementation of the CompStat system,
which compiles exhaustive crime statistics. The system is so new that
data for 2009 is not available online, making it difficult to identify
trends over the last 12 months.
The system has already
improved the efficiency of SFPD patrols.
track all these crimes and deploy resources based on the frequency,”
said Theresa, adding that it’s crucial for crime victims to come forward
so that the police can adjust patrols accordingly.
“When people are drunk and they’re walking
home, they look like such an easy hit,” CCOP founder Carlton Paul
The solution is simple: don’t walk home
“When people leave and they’re wasted, they need
to make someone walk home with them,” Carlton urged. “Walk where
there’s other people. Stay on better-lit streets.” And, he said,
“everybody needs to carry a whistle.”
identified some “areas that have had some difficulty”: Hartford and
18th, near Moby Dick; Beaver Street, half a block north of Cafe Flore;
and the southwest end of Church near Dolores Park.
though these areas are higher-risk, Carlton said, you don’t need to
avoid them altogether. It simply comes down to exercising care. “Be
alert,” he said.
Social Worker Damian Ochoa listed
additional areas in which people should exercise caution at night. “Most
crime is concentrated at the corner of Market and Castro,” he said, and
also listed Nineteenth and Eureka, 19th and Church, near Safeway, near
Duboce Park, and around the Davies Campus.
are confronted by a mugger, he said, give them what they want, and only
fight back if they are intent on harming you. “Get away from the
assailant as quickly as possible, don’t separate from the crowd, make
noise, attract attention, and run like hell.” If possible, take note of
the direction from which the mugger arrived or departed.
Stacy Umezu offered additional tips. Trust your gut instinct, she said;
and when you’re meeting someone, make sure your friends know where
you’re going. Always have an exit strategy.
also recommended self-defense classes at Triangle Martial Arts. “It
fosters a sense of empowerment that is unreal,” he said. “We have a
class that is a model for the entire world.”
Community on Patrol’s presence has undoubtedly discouraged crime. For
example, they worked with Bank of America to improve security
programming on the ATMs at 18th and Castro, where drunk users would
often forget their cards in the machines.
SFPD, CCOP relies on crime reports to dispatch their patrols to
high-risk areas. “We’ve been doing it three years,” said Carlton. “when
you’re walking on patrol and you stand there and you watch something
suspicious, it’s like casting a light on it.”
taking care of our own,” he added.