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Young women are randomly getting sucker punched in New York City

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At least three women have shared stories on TikTok about being randomly punched in the face while walking New York City streets during the past two weeks. 

“Out of nowhere this man just came up and hit me in the face,” Mikayla Toninato, a student at Parsons School of Design, recounted on TikTok three days ago. She “was literally leaving class,” and looking down at her phone to send a text.

In a follow-up post, she described walking between 14th Street and 5th Avenue on her way to the Union Square subway station when a man she didn’t know “clocked” her face. “It was like he gave someone a high five and kept walking—except for he gave me a punch to my face and then just kept walking.”

She’s not the only one to be attacked near the Greenwich Village area, composed of historically upper-class neighborhoods. Another woman, Olivia Brand, was punched on March 17 in the Soho and Nolita area, about a mile further downtown. Halley Kate, another woman, briefly blacked out after a man hit her in the face in lower Manhattan, she said in a TikTok. All three women filed reports with the police, according to their TikTok posts. Fortune contacted all three women for the story, but did not receive a response.

These random acts of violence came at the tails of two high-profile subway incidents that have happened in New York City during the past couple of months—and they’re indicative of a recent wave of street violence that’s swept New York. On February 12, a shooting on a Bronx subway platform killed one and injured five. Just about two weeks later, a subway train conductor’s neck was slashed by someone on the platform, and a doctor who happened to be on board the train helped save his life. Then, on Monday, an unidentified victim was fatally pushed onto the tracks of an East Harlem station. The man accused of the crime was described by his mother and officials as having psychological issues, according to the Associated Press

Is it all the same person who’s punching these young New Yorkers?

On Wednesday, police arrested two people in connection with punching incidents reported by the women who posted on TikTok, including 40-year-old Brooklyn resident Skiboky Stora. He has five counts against him including harassment and assault with the intention to cause physical injury, according to court documents. His court appearance for the punching is set for April 3. 

According to a police statement shared with Fortune, a 30-year-old Brooklyn resident Mallik Miah was also arrested on Thursday as part of an investigation of a 27-year-old female who reported being punched in the face by a man she didn’t know, suffering injuries to her right eye. 

“NYPD is aware of a viral video circulating on social media depicting a woman who was randomly assaulted in an unprovoked attack,” the department shared in a statement on X. “The individual has been arrested and charged and is a criminal recidivist with an extensive criminal record.” 

Based on the womens’ accounts of the incidents, it’s unclear whether each of the attacks were made by the same person. Toninato said that ever since her post-punch TikTok video went viral with more than 12 million views, she’s been hearing from other women who’ve had “the exact same story happen to them.” But what’s scarier to her is that “our descriptions of this man are completely different, meaning there’s multiple men going around and doing this.” However, investigations are ongoing–so it’s too early to confirm Toninato’s hunch.

But I thought NYC crime rates were improving?   

During the 1990s, crime rates in New York “dropped dramatically,” according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. Indeed, violent crimes fell by more than 56% in the city—but that was after decades of alarming crime rates. The U.S. Department of Justice even calls the 1970s a “decade of violence.” But recent acts of violence on New York’s subway system, like the Bronx subway shooting and a conductor whose neck was slashed, have revived fear of violent crime in the city once more. 

The incidents have led politicians to double down on efforts to protect people in public spaces. On March 6, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced a five-point plan aimed to improve subway safety. The initiative includes bolstering public police presence by 1,000 officers, requiring Metropolitan Transportation Authority and National Guard to check bags, installing of more security cameras, and expanding programs that connect support teams to those experiencing mental health crises. 

On Thursday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced a pilot program to install and use free-standing scanners to detect guns at subway station entrances, but there’s a mandatory 90-day waiting period before the new technology can be used and tested in the city. There’s doubt in the effectiveness of the technology, though, considering the scanners came from Evolv Technology, a publicly traded company that has been accused of doctoring software testing results to make its scanners appear more effective than they actually are. The program also includes a $20 million investment to expand subway outreach teams and deploy clinicians “to connect people with untreated severe mental illness in the subways” to mental health treatment. 

While recent events have made it seem like New York City is getting violent again, overall crime in the transit system was actually down nearly 16% in March on a year-over-year basis, according to the mayor’s office. But since the start of 2024, overall arrests in the subway system are up nearly 56% compared to last year—withs a 111% jump in gun arrests. Beyond the subway system,, citywide incident rates of crimes like murder, rape, grand larceny and burglary have all decreased in the last two years, according to NYPD reports

That’s a stark contrast with the violence New York faced during the 1970s into the ‘90s. The city’s dark past includes an era of crimes, like arson that engulfed the Bronx in ‘70s (which was caused by a combination of community outrage over the city’s neglect of the borough through redlining) and the infamous rape case of the Central Park Five, a group of five Black boys who were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for the rape of a woman in the park (one of them, Yusef Salam, won a seat on the New York City Council in November). 

To be sure, many New Yorkers don’t believe that increasing police presence is always the best way to improve safety, according to one of the city’s largest policy surveys conducted by NYC Speak. Indeed, New Yorkers want to prioritize more affordable housing, reduced homeless rates, and increasing the number of trained mental health first responders instead. 

Still, social media has given more visibility to the myriad of crimes that unfold everywhere in the city–and one woman who was attacked had some words of advice. 

“Head on a swivel,” Toninato said in a TikTok post. “Be super aware of your surroundings.”

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