Fear and loathing in Boston

A rant on urban safety
By JEANNIE GREELEY  |  March 30, 2006

Fear and loathing in BostonI'm breaking from my normal tone to address a recent Boston Globe article that still has me steaming.
Beneath a caption that reads FEARLESS IN THE CITY comes an even more troubling headline: SOME WOMEN STILL PARTY AS IF INVULNERABLE. Apparently it's a follow-up story to the news of the brutal rape and murder of Boston native Imette St. Guillen.

Reproachful in tone, the article condemns women for their loose ways, which include drinking alcohol and kissing strangers. Then it documents the reporter's findings during one weekend of barhopping in Boston, which turned up conclusive evidence of "many young women slurring words, making out with men they hardly knew, and, in one case, sobbing alone in a back alley, shoeless, after a night of drinking." Absent from the report are accounts of numerous meatheads pounding beer after beer, getting into barroom brawls, and randomly groping women.

Yet how dare we women be so bold as to think we can enjoy the buzz of a martini on a Saturday night and then walk home to our apartments? How dare we traverse these city streets without tucking our purses into our waistbands and acting like tourists in Rio? How dare we engage in a kiss with a stranger without gripping our keys between our fingers preparing to stab him in the eye?

Even more maddening is the connection the article draws between women's behavior and their fascination with things like Sex and the City and Internet dating, which have allegedly falsely emboldened us and caused us to display attitudes that are "carefree." As if an HBO comedy somehow convinced us that brunching with girlfriends on Sundays helps eradicate sex crimes.

Miffed by the article, I call one of its quoted sources -- Jack Levin, professor of criminology and sociology, and director of Northeastern University's Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict -- to try and comprehend what, exactly, is wrong with women acting "fearless" and "invulnerable." His comments are noticeably different than those in the article.
"There's no other way to have equal status in a society -- you take risks," he says. "What would [women] do, sit in their bedrooms and suck their thumbs in the fetal position? Is that what we want women to do?"

And, contradicting the article's premise entirely, Levin notes, "The underlying basis for selecting a victim of sexual assault is vulnerability."

I'm certainly not advocating binge drinking or sexual irresponsibility, but I think instilling a population of females with even more fear isn't a way to curb crime -- it's a way to increase it. Most women, I think, are well aware of their susceptibility to attack. There are things we can do to better protect ourselves. But crime, as Levin points out, is often random. "There's no way to protect yourself against a committed serial killer," he says, "and that's whether you're a man or a woman."

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