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UC Students Don Skirts to Protest Assaults

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday March 04, 2009 - 07:01:00 PM
Morgan (left), a college student who was assaulted by the sexual predator targeting young girls wearing skirts, walks down Piedmont Avenue with her friends during a Wednesday afternoon“skirt rally” organized by UC Berkeley students.
Riya Bhattacharjee
Morgan (left), a college student who was assaulted by the sexual predator targeting young girls wearing skirts, walks down Piedmont Avenue with her friends during a Wednesday afternoon“skirt rally” organized by UC Berkeley students.

Short skirts, long skirts, itsy-bitsy polka-dotted mini skirts, ruffled skirts and pleated skirts, and even a kilt or two took over the steps of Sproul Plaza Wednesday at noon to protest the sexual predator on the UC Berkeley campus who is going around lifting women’s skirts on desolate street corners and dark alleyways. 

Organized by university groups V-Day, Berkeley NOW, and the Women’s Identity and Sexuality Small Group, the rally brought together more than 60 women wearing skirts of different shapes, sizes and colors to emphasize that they were not “skirting the issue,” and instead raising awareness among their peers to ensure that the suspect is caught as soon as possible. 

The Berkeley Police Department reported Monday that the latest incident in the long list of sexual attacks had occurred Saturday, when the alleged sexual predator snuck up behind the first victim at 3:45 a.m. on Piedmont Avenue near Channing Way, and targeted the second victim in a similar manner around 11 p.m. on Dwight Way near College Avenue, reaching up under their garment to sexually penetrate them with his fingers. 

The attacks bring the total number of sexual assaults to 20. 

Some students said that the incidents had created a sense of fear among young women in the sororities and dorms—whose walls have been plastered with a sketch of the suspect, described by the Berkeley police as a white man in his 20s, about 5 feet 10 inches tall, weighing around 160 pounds with a medium built and dark, wavy hair. 

Others said that they were surprised to hear people asking questions such as why the victims were out alone at night or wearing a skirt, which they said took the focus away from the actual crime. 

Led by V-Day, a grassroots movement which aims to end violence against women, students enacted the scene “my short skirt” from Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues, a book celebrating female sexuality, to draw attention to their plight. 

“My short skirt is turquoise water with swimming colored fish, a summer festival in the starry dark, a bird calling a train arriving in a foreign town—my short skirt is a wild spin, a full breath, a tango dip—my short skirt is initiation, appreciation, excitation,” said a UC Berkeley student, reading aloud from the book. “It is not an invitation, a provocation, an indication that I want it or give it or that I hook—my short skirt is not begging for it, it does not want you to rip it off me or pull it down.” 

Alex Stone, a UC Berkeley senior who is involved with the production of the play scheduled to take place next week, said that skirts were not an invitation for people to attack women. 

“When I first heard the news of this serial sexual predator, my first thought was, ‘uh-oh, I wear a lot of skirts,” said Stone, who wore a long ruffled skirt Wednesday to show solidarity for the victims. “My second thought was, ‘maybe I should lay off the skirts for a little until this blows over.’ Then I got angry. I was angry because my initial reaction to the assaults on Piedmont was to react in fear and let this criminal control my life. My skirts are not meant to provide easy access to anyone. They are not an invitation to attack me.” 

Stone said that she was enraged that women were too often blamed for their attack. 

“We focus our attention on what we think the women should have done differently to avoid the attack rather than looking at the attackers and examining their behavior,” she said. “This mentality has led sexual assault and rape to be the most underreported crimes in the U.S. Luckily, many of the women attacked recently have had the courage and support to report these heinous crimes so that the predator can be caught.” 

Morgan, a college student who had been assaulted by the skirt-lifter, spoke at the rally about her shocking experience. 

Wearing a short white skirt, she held hands with her friends and said in a trembling voice, “I just pray that this man gets caught. I hope he realizes that it’s not OK to do what he is doing. I really appreciate the passion my friends have for this issue.” 

Morgan walked with the rest of the group along Bancroft and Piedmont avenues, covering some of the streets in the South Campus area that the attacker picks his victims from. 

Rajan Grewal, a senior at UC Berkeley, carried a “freedom not fear” poster as she walked down Channing Way. 

“It’s completely unacceptable,” Grewal, dressed in a short gray dress and black tights said of the assaults. “The response we are getting from the public is that women are asking for this. I think the important issue is not that a girl was wearing a skirt, but that she was assaulted.” 

Chris Franco, a sophomore at the university, said that he was attending the rally as an “ally of women.” 

“As a guy, I have the privilege to walk on the streets wearing what I want to, without having to worry about a skirt or anything else,” he said. “I think women should have the same right. I am here to support them.” 

Jamie Tan, one of the rally organizers who is with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, stressed women should have the right to wear what they want—anytime, anywhere. 

“Women have lives too,” she said. “This predator has targeted women in skirts, women in shorts, women in tights. He has attacked women walking alone and women walking in groups. He has attacked late in the evening and early in the morning. The focus needs to be on catching him, not what we are wearing.” 

Sgt. Mary Kusmiss, a spokesperson of the Berkeley Police Department, said that Berkeley police and the University of California Police Department were on high alert about the assaults and doing their best to share information and coordinate responses. 

“We even have extra officers working the focus area,” she said. “This suspect has been elusive ... accomplishing his crimes quickly, fleeing swiftly on foot into the night.”  

Police are asking for the community’s help in catching the suspect. Anyone who can identify him or who has witnessed an attack can call the Berkeley police sex crimes detail at 981-5735. 

Police are also encouraging victims to report attacks immediately to Berkeley police dispatch at 981-5900.