Incongruity Noted

What happens if you strip away most of the connective tissue in this New York Times article about sexual assault in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn?

1. By day, the handsome block of Irving Place that runs between Gates and Putnam Avenues in Brooklyn projects a vibrant wholesomeness. Women push strollers past the red-brick Mount Zion Tabernacle Church; young couples tote Trader Joe’s bags past a photo gallery; and watchful neighbors walk dogs in front of Public School 56.

2. It might seem incongruous, then, that this area would be the setting of two violent crimes: A 31-year-old woman told the police that she had been sexually assaulted twice on Aug. 31, the attacks coming one hour and a block apart in the near-dawn of Sunday morning.

3. Many residents of this section of Clinton Hill said the assaults had occurred amid a broader pattern of crime that taints these blocks on the weekends.

“You come out late at night, early in the morning, you see three, four prostitutes,” said Benny Allen, 30, a youth sports coach who grew up and still lives in the area. “Two years ago, I saw a man and a woman going at it right there on that sidewalk. I had to run them off.”

4. Standing in the doorways of multifamily buildings valued at $1 million to $3 million, residents told of their encounters with prostitutes and their clients.

We can keep going:

1. wholesomeness, strollers, Trader Joe’s

2. incongruous, sexually assaulted

3. broader pattern of crime, prostitutes, “run them off.”

4. $3 million, residents

The GENTRIFICATION STORY lens is so narrow and distorting that a report about sexual assault in a changing neighborhood becomes a story about a “broader pattern” of crime; just broad enough to include and implicate both the people perpetrating sexual assault and their victims. But no broader!

There is no mention of other crimes in the area, and there are no crime statistics. Just a single conflation: of criminalized, dangerous sex work with violent sex crimes. “Sex Worker,” it turns out, is as much an instantly unsympathetic news character as “Rival Gang Member” — a holdout from a time and place where sexual assault would have apparently been assessed as not incongruous at all.

Photo by Conway L.