A man was arrested last week on charges of sexual abuse, forcible touching and harassment after multiple reports were made on an Astoria social networking site about a man who groped women while riding a bicycle, NYPD said.
Miguel Hermenegildo, 33, is now in police custody, authorities said. Hermenegildo is a suspect in an unsettling situation that first came to light on the website whyleaveastoria.com, a social networking site made up of more than 7,000 members, most of them Astorians, and dedicated to showcasing people and places in the neighborhood.
A woman who identified herself as “Kate Salute” put up a post July 17 titled “Astoria women, be careful” and described how she had been approached at 31st Street and 30th Avenue by a man on a bicycle who then grabbed her breast.
“Watch out,” Salute stated. “When you see a bike coming at you, put your hands out.”
The post produced seven pages of comments, a good number from women who had had a similar experience. The general description of the suspect is a Hispanic male with short brown hair, 24 to 26 years old and about 5-foot-10 in height. Most incidents reported were along 30th Avenue and 31st Street, but others are reported to have occurred between 25th and 34th avenues from 40th to 49th streets.
“He was on bike and grabbed [m]y butt,” wrote a woman with the moniker of “Jill K,” who said she had been groped twice. “The second time was especially scary because he snuck up behind me. Mind you, it was in the afternoon and 30th Ave. was busy!”
Police said Hermenegildo has only been charged in one, not multiple incidents, of groping, as of press time Tuesday evening.
City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) said he was alerted to the post July 19 and since then has been in contact with the 114th Precinct on the issue, especially after some women complained the police were not taking the issue seriously. The councilman said the police have increased their presence in the area as a result of the reports.
“They’re interviewing witnesses, talking to store owners, checking video cameras,” Vallone said. “All the usual things.”
Salute has also put up a “groper reporting form” linked from whyleaveastoria.com, which asks respondents to write where the incident occurred and a description of the perpetrator.
Vallone said he believes about 20 to 25 women have filled out the form and he has spoken to three women personally. He said the website has been a great way to figure out that the sexual assaults were not isolated incidents but part of a larger pattern.
“I think this is a great example of how you can use social media as a sort of a neighborhood watch,” Vallone said.
Salute’s form can be accessed from whyleaveastoria.com/profiles/blogs/astoria-women-be-careful. Those with any information have also been urged to call Vallone’s office at 718-274-4500 or the 114th Precinct at 718-626-9311.
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cn
©2011 Community News Group
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