A woman walks a dog in Portland's West End on Monday, May 24. Despite a decline in the number of violent crimes in the city last year, most victims were women for the third year in a row. (Portland Phoenix/Elizabeth Clemente)
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Despite a decline in the number of violent crimes in Portland last year, more women than men were victims of criminal violence in the city for the third year in a row.

In 2020, nearly 1,700 total violent crimes occurred in Portland, compared to just over 1,900 in 2019, according to the Portland Police Department’s 2020 Annual Report, released May 20.

Crimes categorized as murder, rape, aggravated assault, robbery, motor vehicle thefts, larceny, and burglary decreased last year. Arson increased by one.

David Singer, the Police Department media and community liaison, said via email May 20 that 2020 was also the first year in two decades that Portland did not see a single homicide.

Women, however, were victims in 303 of the violent crimes that occurred last year, while men were victims in 258.

The 18-29 age demographic has accounted for the most victims of violent crimes in Portland since 2016. 

“With businesses closed, people confined to their homes, and other factors from the pandemic, typical crime incidents dropped,” Singer said.

A woman was punched repeatedly May 5 by an assailant on Gray Street in Portland, the same area where a man tried to pull women into his car last October. (Portland Phoenix/Elizabeth Clemente)

Two disturbing violent crimes against women took place in the city earlier this month.

On May 5 at approximately 9:40 p.m., a woman was walking on Gray Street in the West End and talking on the phone when she was punched several times in the face and head by an unknown male assailant, according to a Police Department press release.

The woman said she felt someone tap her on the shoulder, and when she turned around the man punched her. She fell to the ground, but the perpetrator, described as a slim, white male about 5 feet 5 inches or 5 feet 6 inches tall, continued to punch her before leaving the scene. 

The attack took place in the same area where women were approached last fall by a man in a car who attempted to pull them inside his vehicle, according to WMTW.

On May 13 at approximately 10:28 a.m., another assault occurred on Brighton Avenue. The woman who was allegedly attacked claimed transient Marcus Trusty hit her in the face before grabbing her throat, displaying a handgun, and threatening to shoot her, while both of them waited for a bus near Riverside Street.

Trusty was later booked at the Cumberland County Jail on charges of domestic violence assault, terrorizing, criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon, and illegal possession of a firearm by a felon, according to police.

Singer said via email on May 21 the two attacks are not believed to be related. 

After the May 5 incident, police advised anyone walking alone in Portland to “take extra care to protect themself,” which a press release said should include being alert, monitoring one’s surroundings, and staying in “well-lit areas.”

The area of the West End where the May 5 attack occurred is largely residential, and despite some street lights, is quite dark after sunset.

When asked May 20 if the Police Department is doing anything to try to prevent similar violent street crimes, Singer said any time there is an incident or an assault, officers give what he called “special attention” to those areas during their patrols.

Singer was unable to respond to a question about trends and data on violent street crime over the past five years. He said that information would require a Freedom of Access Act request. 

Finding such street-crime-specific data would require the department’s data technician to manually retrieve each report concerning a violent crime and identify where the crime took place, he said. 

Singer also said since the May 5 attack, the Police Department’s Community Policing Unit has been coordinating with groups in the West End and clubs around the city to set up rape aggression defense training. Visit the city of Portland website to sign up; there is a $30 registration fee that goes to the Amy St. Laurent Foundation, a nonprofit established in honor of Amy St. Laurent, a 25-year-old woman who was sexually assaulted and murdered in 2001.

Although several nonprofits exist to help women leave domestic violence situations or heal after sexual assault, no grassroots organizations seem to exist to help prevent or respond to random street attacks on women in Portland.

Several cities and universities around the country, including the University of Maine, have installed emergency Blue Light towers, which allow people to hit a button and have authorities called immediately if attacked in areas such as parking lots or desolate streets. But Portland officials have never considered implementing such a system.

Rebecca Hobbs, executive director of Through These Doors, a resource center for domestic violence victims in Cumberland County, said her organization is primarily focused on intimate partner violence.

While the Through These Doors helpline is “never a bad resource” for someone who has experienced a random attack and could help them talk through their feelings, Hobbs said, “full-on stranger violence” is not part of her group’s mission.

“As a woman in the world taking extra precautions as most of us do, feeling extra vulnerability and exposure because of our gender is something we talk about,” Hobbs said. “But it isn’t something I’d say ‘definitely call us because we’ll help you.’”

Singer said people should contact authorities if they feel threatened.

“Call 911 as soon as you feel that you may be in danger, whether that’s someone following you or acting suspicious, or issuing threats (to you)” he said. “Our patrol officers’ beats are set up so they can respond within minutes to a call from dispatch.”