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Gold Coast Sex Assaults a Sign of Change in the Neighborhood, Residents Say

 The intersection where a 26-year-old woman reported she was sexually assaulted Sunday morning.
The intersection where a 26-year-old woman reported she was sexually assaulted Sunday morning.
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DNAinfo/Lizzie Schiffman

GOLD COAST — Residents and Chicagoans who spend time in the ritzy Gold Coast neighborhood said the news of two sexual assaults believed to be tied to the same attacker is troubling, but not shocking.

A 26-year-old woman was approached by a man early Sunday morning in the 1000 block of North Dearborn Street, near Oak Street, according to Officer Jose Estrada, a Chicago Police Department spokesman. The man dragged her into an alley and began to sexually assault her when a passing "good Samaritan" intervened and scared him off, she reported.

The suspect is believed to be tied to a second incident reported on June 17, according to a Police Department community alert issued Sunday.

"We all have concerns," said Judy King, 52, who lives at Oak and Dearborn streets and has resided in the Gold Coast area for more than 20 years. Her job managing a staffing company often has her out on the streets at early hours, close to when Sunday's attack happened at 5:40 a.m.

King said she'd heard reports about both sex assaults. Combined with the recent appearance of "flash mobs" in the Gold Coast — large groups often composed mostly of young people — who coordinate assaults, robberies, and other crimes in advance, King said she feels less safe in her neighborhood these days.

"Getting out on the street that early, it never used to be scary. I felt like I was on a beautiful and safe planet, but it's not like that anymore," she said. "Walking around [the Gold Coast] at 4:30 in the morning nowadays, your hair stands on end. It is not the same as it used to be. ... I've seen the area change drastically."

Chicago's Guardian Angels, a neighborhood watch coalition, announced via Twitter Monday night that they would be patrolling the area near Clark and Division streets, and offering escorts to people traveling alone from 5 to 9 a.m. Tuesday. 

Sexual assault didn't register among the top five "community concerns" reported in the Near North District's most recent 12-month status report.

The top crimes identified in that report were "troubled buildings," gangs, prostitution, narcotics and "other criminal or disorder activity," which made up nearly 73 percent of the 70 crimes reported last year.

Area resident Lynn Cooper said she thinks it's dangerous to consider any neighborhood "immune" to certain types of crime.

"We repeat without even thinking, 'What about this happening on the Gold Coast?' when on the West Side it happens probably much more frequently," said Cooper, who's lived in Printers Row for 26 years but frequents the Gold Coast. "Somehow we in the Gold Coast think we should be immune to it. Why should it not happen here?"

Witnesses described the attacker in both assaults as a 35-year-old black man weighing 240 to 260 pounds and standing between 5-foot-9 and 6-foot-2. Estrada said Sunday that no one is in custody, and an investigation is ongoing.

Sharmili Majmudar, executive director of the Chicago-based Rape Victim Advocates, said it's dangerous to let reports of serial attacks by strangers cloud the public's understanding of the realities of sexual assault, and what actions can help combat it.

"There's definitely something to be said for adequate street lighting, for example, and making sure that folks are just generally aware of their surroundings and looking out for one another," Majmudar said. "But as a sexual violence prevention strategy, those are extremely limited in their application.

"It's also helpful for people in the community to know that there is a resource available that they can access whether they're the victim, or if there's someone close to the victim that wants information on how they can be supportive," she said.

The RVA operates rape crisis services at 14 hospitals across the city, including Northwestern Memorial, where the victim in Sunday's attack was taken in stable condition.

Michelle Lynn, 55, a recent transplant from San Francisco, said the Gold Coast crime doesn't make her more anxious about her new home.

"A city is a city. You have to be smart about keeping yourself safe, but you also have to take the good with the bad," she said. "I think crime is going to be anywhere."

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) could not be reached for comment Monday.