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New York City women warn each other to stay alert after multiple people report getting ‘punched in the face’

Women in NYC are encouraging each other to stay aware of their surroundings after several people shared similar reports of being attacked while on their phone

Meredith Clark
New York
Thursday 28 March 2024 15:54 GMT
TikToker says she was hit by stranger in New York City, echoing multiple reports
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Women in New York City are urging each other to stay aware of their surroundings after several people reported similar stories of getting punched in the face by an unidentified man.

On Tuesday 19 March at around 8pm, comedian Sarah Suzuki Harvard was walking alone on Delancey Street in lower Manhattan when she was attacked by a man from behind. He punched her in the back of her skull, but when she turned around, the assailant had already begun running away.

Since then, the 30-year-old Lower East Side resident has experienced headaches, nausea, dizziness, blurred vision, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress. While she didn’t initially file a police report after the attack, Harvard said that seeing viral videos from multiple women detailing similar assaults has now inspired her to report the incident.

“My sister was sending me these TikTok videos of these girls talking about how they’re getting punched in the face,” Harvard told The Independent. “My friend was like: ‘Don’t you feel a little bit better now that it’s not an isolated incident?’ No, I’m getting more scared now because it’s a repeated occurrence that could get escalated, that could happen to me again.”

The multiple incidents appeared to have happened within days - and miles - of each other, as accounts of women describing their similar assaults have gone viral on social media. People began to take notice on Monday 25 March, when influencer Halley Kate shared with her 1.1m TikTok followers that she was “punched in the face” by a man in Manhattan.

“You guys, I was literally just walking and a man came up and punched me in the face,” she said through tears, showing the welt that had begun to form on the side of her forehead. “Oh my god, it hurts so bad. I can’t even talk. Literally, I fell to the ground and now this giant goose egg is forming.”

In a follow-up video, Halley explained that she was “walking on the sidewalk” and looking down at her phone when the unidentified man physically assaulted her. “This man - I don’t know if he punched me or if he elbowed me; I literally passed out so I don’t really remember - but I think he just was really mad that my head was down,” the influencer said.

She noted that the man was walking his dog when the incident occurred, and she fell to the ground and “blacked out for a second”. When she got back up, Halley recalled the man was “screaming at me” and she ran away. The influencer later filed a police report, and was told by officials that it had “matched” another police report detailing a similar incident.

“Ladies, stay safe out there,” Halley added. “Stay alert, maybe don’t look at your phone when you’re walking on the street. Learn from my lessons.”

That same day, Mikayla Toninato - a student at Parsons School of Design - shared a video to TikTok after she was also “punched in the face” after leaving class on Monday. “I turned the corner and I was looking down and I was looking at my phone and texting, and then out of nowhere this man just came up and hit me in the face,” Toninato said in the video, in which a bruise could be seen forming around her eye.

The student explained that she informed her friends of the assault, who sent her a video of another woman that was also punched in the face while looking at her phone. “I don’t know if this is like a thing that’s going around, but I guess if you’re in New York right now and you’re walking while looking at your phone, maybe don’t do that,” Toninato said. “I guess we’re going to be super aware of our surroundings.”

Following the viral videos, Harvard detailed her assault in a thread posted to X, formerly Twitter. The comedian later provided a description of the assailant to The Independent, describing him as a Black male around six-feet tall with dreadlocks or twists that ended right above his shoulders. She recalled that he was wearing a knit hat, denim jacket, and jeans at the time.

Harvard couldn’t help but notice that most of these women whose experiences have gone viral were looking down at their phones when they were attacked. “This all seems to me that he is targeting unassuming women,” she wrote on X.

Meanwhile, TikTok user Olivia Brand shared that she was “punched by some man” on the sidewalk just two days before Harvard. In her video, which was posted on 17 March, Brand revealed that the man had exclaimed “Sorry!” before he physically assaulted her. She explained in a follow-up video that the incident occurred around the Nolita and Soho neighbourhoods of Manhattan, and the man did not have a dog with him.

Brand said she immediately filed a police report and went to urgent care after being punched in the face. In the comments section of her TikTok video, she also provided a description of the man who had attacked her. “It was a Black man, wearing a light grey hoodie, probably no taller than 5’10. Short-ish hair. I don’t remember much else about his face,” Brand wrote.

The revelation that unassuming women are being attacked in New York City has sparked a conversation online, as fellow women and TikTokers are now urging each other to be aware of their surroundings. While Harvard said she’s still experiencing anxiety that a similar incident could happen to her again, she maintained that posting about her assault on social media will help create awareness for other women to stay alert.

“Now that something like this happened to me, I wish I was careful and vigilant,” she told The Independent. “I am glad I posted that. It just seems a lot of people are having to be more cautious now. If it prevents one person from getting attacked, that’s the best thing.”

What’s more, it seems now the viral videos have inspired even more women to come forward with their experiences of being punched in the face on the street. Entrepreneur and former Real Housewives of New York City star Bethenny Frankel left a comment under Toninato’s video, in which she claimed that she too was punched by a man on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

“This is insane [because] this happened to me a few months ago but I was embarrassed to say,” Frankel, 53, wrote in the comments section. “I was on the UWS [Upper West Side]. Insane. I was taking video of a bakery.”

Frankel’s comment was later deleted.

The New York Police Department has since made an arrest in connection to influencer Halley Kate’s assault. Skiboky Stora, a 40-year-old East New York resident, was charged with assault on Wednesday 27 March, though police did not say if Stora was a suspect in any of the other incidents.

“The NYPD is aware of a viral video circulating on social media depicting a woman who was randomly assaulted in an unprovoked attack,” the NYPD posted on their official X account. “The individual has been arrested and charged and is a criminal recidivist with an extensive criminal record. Your NYPD detectives were able to identify the man after he was previously arrested for similar attacks, only to be released back onto our streets.

“This incident will be his third arrest in the past six months,” the post continued. “Your officers will continue to remain resilient in their efforts to stop violent criminals, ensuring the safety of our communities.”

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