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On the Trails of Serial Rapists

Crime: Two suspects have been arrested, leaving several at large in the Southland. All have different hallmarks.

August 22, 2002|CARLA HALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In Torrance, he's brazen. He hasn't physically struck his victims, according to police, but he's audacious enough to attack in daylight. In Long Beach, he's methodical. He seems to have researched his victims, knowing they are alone and preying on them only then. And in Hancock Park, he was so obvious, or careless, he got caught--allegedly.

Perhaps the strongest commonality among the three serial rapists is that they are terrorizing the Los Angeles area this summer. Most law enforcement officials say the number of serial rapists has not increased, but there's been more media attention.

Last week, Long Beach police added more people to their rape task force because it was inundated with calls a day after Cmdr. Linda Beardslee, who heads the task force, held a news conference describing the assailant's method and exhorting the public to be observant. The Long Beach rapist's attacks go back to 1996; the most recent attempt was last Thursday, according to Long Beach police.

Sean Tanabe, the lead detective on the case of the Torrance rapist who is suspected of attacking three women from July 4 to July 29, said this is the first serial rapist he's encountered in the three years he's worked on sex crimes in the city.

"That's not to say these acts haven't been committed," he said. (It's unclear whether the same criminal is responsible for an attempted rape July 22 in the area.)

Rape is notoriously underreported, said Gail Abarbanel, director of the Rape Treatment Center at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center.

"All rapists are serial rapists, and they're very big recidivist offenders," said Abarbanel, who was trained and worked as a social worker before becoming involved in the treatment of rape victims. "They usually commit far more rapes than they get arrested for or convicted for."

Although the rapes that have been getting public attention the last few months appear to be cases in which the rapist is a stranger, most rapes, Abarbanel said, are committed by people the victim knows--a friend, neighbor, colleague, fellow student, someone met at a party or club.

"You're more likely to report a stranger rape than an acquaintance rape to authorities," Abarbanel said, adding that victims of a rapist they know often fear retaliation from the person or blame from the community.

"Acquaintance rape is just as criminal, just as devastating to the victim as stranger rape. The penal code doesn't distinguish between stranger rape and acquaintance rape."

Abarbanel doesn't subscribe to the theory that there are more rapes in the summer because people leave doors and windows open. Los Angeles is temperate year round, she notes.

Moses Castillo, a Los Angeles police detective in the special rape section of the Robbery-Homicide Division, said people should always be on alert, not just this summer. Many criminals progress from thieves to rapists, Castillo said.

"Every three seconds, someone's house is being burglarized, so the chances of someone being sexually assaulted are high," Castillo said.

But rapes occur in a wide variety of places, Abarbanel said. "If I told you where every rape happened, you wouldn't go anywhere," she said. "It happens everywhere."

In fact, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department on Wednesday announced that DNA evidence now has linked attacks on five girls in southeast Los Angeles County to one man.

That spree began a year ago, and the last two attacks were in February, Deputy Brian Lendman said. The attacker has struck once in North Long Beach and four times in Paramount. He's described as pudgy and has been spotted in a white compact sedan and on a BMX bicycle.

And on Tuesday, sheriff's investigators arrested a Thousand Oaks tile setter they suspect is a serial rapist on suspicion of three sexual assaults in the city during the past four years.

Narcisso Solis, 40, was about to be released after spending the weekend behind bars on a drunk driving arrest when DNA tests allegedly linked him to the assaults. Authorities suspect he also is responsible for at least two other unsolved rape cases in Thousand Oaks, and they've notified other law enforcement agencies in Ventura and Los Angeles counties about his arrest and possible link to more cases.

According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program, there were 90,186 forcible rapes reported in 2000 (the most recent year for final statistics).

"I see about 1,000 cases myself" each year, said Abarbanel, who contends that the FBI figure is substantially lower than the reality because so many victims do not tell the authorities.

The Types of Rapists

Whether rapists are strangers or acquaintances of their victims, most fall roughly into four profiles: the power-reassurance rapist, the power-assertive rapist, the anger-retaliation rapist and the anger-excitation rapist, or sadist. Two other categories account for a very small number of rapists: opportunistic rapists and gang rapists.

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