Toronto Sun

October 7, 1999

What's good for the gooser ...

Toronto Sun

The sexual predator prowled the city on a bicycle, seeking out victims who were elderly and vulnerable.

Using a typical catch-'em-off-guard technique, police say this pervert would strike up a conversation with the victims outside their homes, then begin fondling and groping their genitals.

When it was all over and their attacker had fled, they would discover they had been robbed as well.

After a summer of high-pitched warnings from local police about roving rapists - one of whom broke into homes and molested women in their own beds (and raped at least one) - this front-yard attacker apparently struck more than a dozen times before a public warning was issued.

But then, there was a significant difference in this case.

Her victims were men.

Toronto police have now arrested a 35-year-old woman in connection with the attacks. She is charged with several counts of robbery, theft under $5,000 and possession of property obtained by crime.

What's missing from this picture? Charges of sexual assault.

That seems an odd omission, considering that, as the story broken by Sun reporter Tom Godfrey explained: "Police said the thief caressed some victims' bottoms and sometimes she would forcefully tug on their genitals if she had problems removing their wallets." Det. Myron Denkiw said "the robberies were all sexual in nature."

Asked why no sex assault charges were laid, police reportedly said the men were embarrassed and reluctant to talk about that aspect. A classic case of blaming the victims?

Does this kind of sexist stereotype sound familiar?

Hey, the old guys probably got a charge out of having their family jewels juggled. A young woman pedals up on a bicycle and starts getting fresh? What man wouldn't welcome that kind of attention? They probably asked for it!

Not surprisingly, there were more than a few giggles and guffaws about this story around our newsroom. And, I confess, the Sun headline yesterday dubbing the attacker the "geezer squeezer" (the first one merely labelled her a "bike vixen") made me laugh out loud.

Double standard

But seriously, folks, this type of language speaks volumes about our - the media's and society's - double standard.

It's reminiscent of the breathless tales of "kissing bandits" or "rippers" that the press of eons past used to churn out, which made the relatively rare phenomenon of rape by strangers sound almost romantic. The myth of the devil-may-care rounder who ravished women and then faded into the night has, thank goodness, disappeared. Imagine if we had characterized the recent Bedroom Rapist (or Paul Bernardo, the erstwhile Scarboro Rapist) as some kind of dashing male equivalent of "vixen," whatever that is.

Last month's Bedroom Rapist counted among his victims women aged 68, 69 and 75. But you didn't catch anyone giggling and calling him the "granny groper," did you?

Most of us now understand, at long last, that "no means no" and women do not "ask for it." Now, what about old men?

Of course, this is a "man bites dog" (woman molests man) story. It's unusual. And while we feel compassion for the elderly, vulnerable victims who may feel violated, we permit ourselves a little gallows humour because it's so offbeat.

Face it, these attacks will not cause thousands of men to cower in their homes, afraid to work out in their yards alone. They will not organize "take back the garden" marches. They will not sue the police for not warning them about the bicycle fondler (to their credit, police did issue a warning to men on Tuesday, after as many as 14 similar assaults were documented). Men in general will not now view every passing female cyclist with fear and alarm.

Still, isn't it time we rejected the old jokes about how, for a man, "unwanted sexual touching" (the definition of sexual assault) is an oxymoron?

These days, when the penis is the subject of a mocking TV documentary hosted by David Suzuki, and when even leading feminist Susan Faludi is lamenting the lot of men, not women, perhaps it's time we gave men a little more respect.

We could start by giving the men who were victimized in this case their dignity, and backing it up with charges that reflect that sexual assault is never a laughing matter.

Linda Williamson is the Toronto Sun senior associate editor. She can be reached by e-mail at
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