Fear of rape haunts Detroit;International News;News and opinion

10th December 1999 at 00:00
UNITED STATES

THE RAPES of nine girls walking to or from schools in Detroit has brought out thousands of volunteers to escort students who walk to class. But attempted rapes have continued.

Eight rapes were reported in the first two months of the new school year, which began on September 9. Even a city-wide effort to stop the attacks has failed to stop at least 26 additional alleged attempted rapes.

"Now is the time for every Detroiter to do what he or she can do to make our streets safe," said Mayor Dennis Archer, who was initially criticised for not responding strongly enough to the reports.

Mr Archer has gone on television to call for volunteers, and encouraged 300,000 parents to attend meetings at their local schools. The mayor also has ordered city workers and police to patrol the streets around schools in the morning and afternoon.

The response came only after a widespread student protest in which hundreds of angry young people walked out of their classrooms.

One man has been arrested in connection with the rapes, and two other suspects are being sought, according to police.

Another would-be abductor was foiled when a parent noticed a 15-year-old being approached by a man who asked her to get in his car with him. The parent called the police, while another neighbour snatched the girl away.

"As a community, we're reducing the opportunities for someone to grab a child," Greg Bowens, a spokesman for the city, said.

The incidents have also created a climate of fear so great that some parents are keeping their children home from school.

And the assaults have not been confined to Detroit. Two schoolgirls were raped last spring in Memphis, 10 in Chicago in 1997, and six in Los Angeles in 1996.

Volunteers in Detroit are walking or driving students to schools, or driving along the routes with yellow patrol lights on their cars. Students also are being advised to stay in groups. Bus-drivers, taxi-drivers, and utility workers are being asked to be on the alert.

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