By Carrie Spitler
A recent series of violent attacks on Santa Cruz women has prompted police to increase patrols and warn women to be extra cautious. Possibly the worst such incident occurred on Jan. 13, when a 22-year-old woman was accosted by a knife-wielding man while jogging on a path near West Cliff Drive. The attacker punched his victim in the stomach and stabbed her repeatedly before she was able to escape.
The West Cliff stabbing was just one of several similar offenses against Santa Cruz women in the past month and a half. A man posing as a police officer molested two teenage girls on separate occasions in mid-December, while an 11-year-old girl was harassed on her way home from school by a man who tried to lure her into his truck on Jan. 19.
Just days later, a 21-year-old woman was attacked from behind as she entered her Front Street residence during the early hours of Jan. 21. Two more incidents occurred early on Jan. 23, as a 48-year-old woman was attacked from behind while going to work on Coral Street, and a 22-year-old woman was groped on Laurel Street by two men who also knocked her boyfriend unconscious.
Santa Cruz Police Department (SCPD) Spokesperson Zach Friend says police have increased patrol cars on West Cliff Drive and continue to monitor the area closely. Friend added that while there have been many recent high-profile crimes, they are not indicative of a larger trend.
“Crime [overall] has been very down in the last couple of years,” Friend said. “It’s just violent incidents seem to come in an escalating bunch.”
Friend also said that the recent crimes are of particular concern to the SCPD because of their particular victimization of Santa Cruz women.
“We take crimes, particularly against women, very seriously,” Friend stated.
The SCPD has been working very closely with the Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women (CPVAW) to raise awareness and prevent future attacks. The SCPD and CPVAW have begun distributing flyers that include descriptions of assailants and warn women to not jog alone or while wearing headphones.
CPVAW Coordinator Kathy Agnone has also been working to inform the public of the services her organization provides. CPVAW offers self-defense classes and connects girls with female allies whom they can trust and talk to.
“These incidents sometimes nudge people to take [self-defense] classes that they’ve always wanted to,” Agnone said.
UCSC student and frequent West Cliff jogger Lily Hendlin said that recent violence has changed her perception of Santa Cruz.
“I don’t feel comfortable running at night in Santa Cruz, especially alone,” Hendlin said, adding that, although she took self-defense classes in high school, she still considers herself very unprepared if an attacker ever targets her.
“When I first came to Santa Cruz I thought it was a really friendly town,” she said, “but I have observed more violence in the past year, especially with the Halloween stabbings.”