project: Rape New York


Jana Leo
Feminist Press New York: 2011
Book Works London: 2009


Rape New York
by Jana Leo

Feminist Press (2010), New York

In the gripping first pages of this true story, Jana Leo relives the moment-by-moment experience of a home invasion and rape in her own apartment in Harlem. After she reports the crime, she waits. Between police disinterest and squabbles from the health insurance company over who’s going to pay for the rape kit, she realizes that the violence of such an experience does not stop with the crime. Increasingly concerned that the rapist will return (to harm her or other women in the building), she seeks help from her landlord, who refuses to address security issues on the property. She comes to understand that it is precisely these conditions of newly gentrified lower-income areas which lead to vulnerable living spaces, high turnover rates, and ultimately higher profits for these slumlords. In this most singular memoir, Leo weaves a psychological journey into an analysis that becomes equally personal: the fault lines of property mismanagement, class vulnerabilities, and a deeply flawed criminal justice system. In a stunning conclusion, Leo has her day in court.
FP Price:$12.76
ISBN: 9781558616813

“At times recalling Joan Didion’s Sentimental Journeys, Leo’s book is an intensely vulnerable and honest attempt to correct many of the false perceptions associated with rape. ”
—Publishers Weekly

“Jana Leo’s Rape New York refractures and reconstructs the story of her rape and its aftermath; in re-presenting the constellation of events that lead to and from that attack, Leo represents life in all its random brutality and orchestrated dignity – in other words, the best that can be said about this book is that it is true, which is the only real measure of real art, and honest existence.”
—Vanessa Place, author of The Guilt Project and Statement of Facts

“Your front door lock is broken and your landlord doesn’t give a damn. Jana Leo’s exploration of the public and private spaces in Rape New York effectively merges the vulnerability of the city with that of the body itself. A powerful and engrossing work.”
—Arthur Nersesian, author of The Fuck-Up

“In this harrowing and exhilarating narrative, Jana Leo blasts open all the comforting fictions that we take for truths. Raped in Harlem, she turns the tables on New York and instructs her own case, drawing in landlords, police, lawyers, therapists—the entire environment which conspires to normalize complex and singular experiences. A real eye-opener.”
—Sylvère Lotringer, publisher of Semiotext(e) and Professor Emeritus, Columbia University

“Absorbing, tender, insightful, terrifying, this book will change the way you think. In an extraordinary eloquent refusal of the line between the personal and the public, it takes us from the slow-motion details of a traumatic violation to a multidimensional reflection on the institutions and spaces of contemporary life. Memoir becomes urban manifesto.”
—Beatriz Colomina, Professor of Architecture and Founding Director of the Program in Media and Modernity at Princeton University

“In representing the constellation of events that lead to and from her rape, Leo represents life in all its random brutality and orchestrated dignity. In other words, the best that can be said about this book is that it is true, which is the only measure of real art, and honest existence.”
—Vanessa Place, author of The Guilt Project

“So much more than an extraordinary memoir, Rape New York is crucial analysis, screed, and feminist theory. Jana Leo’s story will impact every cell in your body.”
—Jennifer Baumgardner, author of Manifesta


ayout 1Rape New York
by Jana Leo (2009)

Book Works 2009, London

Starting with a rape in the author’s own apartment, this experimental autobiographic novel defies traditional rape narratives by exploring the complex relationship between domestic violence, urban planning and a corrupt property market. Moving from police disinterest and landlord culpability, via way of a Robocop narrative, prison statistics and a B-movie hit-and-run ending, Jana Leo maps the fault lines of capitalist property speculation and the intersection of sexual crime, class vulnerability and the US justice system.

ISBN 978 1906012 14 4—Price £8.00

Books of the Year 2013: Chosen by Verso


(ex·cerpts from Rape New York)

I said it without screaming, as if he were playing a joke on me.
For a moment I thought he was a downstairs neighbor who sometimes smoked in the stairwell. Physically, he was similar and the light in the corridor was dim as my eyes hadn’t had time to adjust from the harsh sunlight outside.
I couldn’t believe there was a man with a gun in my doorway. My first response was denial: nothing bad would happen. My second reaction was to face the reality of the situation and to try and handle it as best I could.
“Do you have some money?”
“Yes, I think I have twenty dollars.”
He entered my apartment. When I saw him cross the threshold between the corridor and my apartment, closing the door behind him, I realized that my everyday life was over. This was not a day like any other, this was the end, the last day of my life, or at least the last day of my present life.
“Go in.”
He pushed the door to close it shut behind him, and then double-locked it.
His presence in my apartment was like losing blood, as if my space was being emptied of air. For an instant, as he moved along the hallway, I felt as if I was going to fall, that gravity could no longer support me. The space wasn’t under my control because someone else had altered it. Entering my own apartment was entering another sphere, a world unknown to me, regulated by rules I had no knowledge of, a world in which I felt completely foreign. I would feel separated from the world to which I had, until then, belonged. He was a stranger, and his presence altered my life to such an extent that I too became a stranger, strange to myself, and strange to others. In this new world, I was conscious that at any moment my life could be taken from me: I had no control.

…Introducing crime into an area is part of a crude development strategy. The more sophisticated and perverse approach is to simultaneously clamp down on street crime while forcing it into specific buildings targeted for speculation. Containing crime in specific buildings reduces their value so developers can purchase them inexpensively. Not only were developers able to buy property on the cheap, the scam also made short-term, low-income rentals much more profitable than high-income rentals. Contained within targeted buildings, crime was facilitated by a lack of security in the common areas, encouraging a rapid turnover of tenants. Agents kept the security deposit, increased the rent, and charged illegal brokers’ fees, thus quickly realizing a profit from the quick turnover of tenants. If a third of the tenants in a thirty-apartment building moved annually, income doubled, yielding up to an extra one hundred thousand dollars. Eventually the building would fall completely vacant, and was no longer subject to rent stabilization laws. It would then be demolished or converted into luxury housing. When I moved to Harlem I wasn’t aware of how the mechanics of these operations worked in detail, nor how they related to our new apartment and our lives.

…“Can I have another cigarette?”
Asking again? He hadn’t asked me if he could enter my apartment. He was asking with a gun. What kind of psychopath was he? The weapon invalidated the option of saying no.
He was suggesting that I not only follow his orders, but also be cool about doing so. Was this a way of humiliating me?
“Sure, take another one.”
My answer, like his question, maintained the impression that nothing out of the ordinary was happening. I was also playing a game, hoping to create empathy and thereby make violent behavior seem inappropriate.

…My assault occurred on the threshold between public and intimate space. Rape is domestic. The house and the transitory spaces  within buildings are regular places of attack but they do not  appear to be the responsibility or fall under the jurisdiction  of government forces, nor are they the clear responsibility of city departments. There is a building department code  that provides strict fire protection, but no crime protection codes exist. The only regulations required by New York City Housing Preservation and Development are limited to doors, windows, locks, and gates, and are badly enforced.  Looking at the US Bureau of Justice statistics, I became aware  that while serious crimes in general—homicide, robbery, and assault—have decreased, rape and burglary have remained stable for the last fifteen years. Burglary and rape are both crimes that occur in or around the home. The effort to secure buildings, tenants, and the home not only doesn’t work practically but also isolates the victim. Energy could be better spent in making the potential intruder feel exposed, rather than safe in the anonymity of transitory spaces. Home is not a safe place. Its familiarity and the routines it produces make women trustful of home, but also easy prey.

…“Are you going to kill me?”
The words came directly from my gut.
I’d lost control of the situation. The words spilled from my mouth, alien, as if spoken by someone else. My fear wasn’t so much a natural fear of death, but came from the absurd realization that a life could be threatened or terminated for another’s entertainment. I saw the meaninglessness of exis¬tence.
“No, I am not going to kill you.”
I relaxed a little, but I immediately entered into a new field of terror, envisaging physical torture. I was being held hostage in my own house, a place of safety, intimacy, and joy. I was trapped and knew that no one would be coming, that I could do nothing to escape. I could only play his game, not to win, but to lose less.

…Statistics tumbled through my mind. My boyfriend, A, had been working on a project for his studio class about prisons and architecture. “One out of ten men in the US is or will be in prison. One out of four black men is or will be in prison.” I felt nervous. What did he want? Did he enjoy playing with me? I was fully aware that I was the loser and he was the winner.
“Could you go? I need to do some things before I go to school. Could you please go?”
“I’m not going. I’ll decide when I’m leaving. Don’t tell me what to do.”

…This description of the suspect as homeless was consistent with the superintendent’s statement on the day of the assault. He’d seen a man matching my description of the assailant apparently living on the roof of the building in which I was raped. However, he did not look like a vagrant. He’d mentioned that his relatives in the neighborhood had an apartment where he could stay. But he wasn’t rooted to any place. Unemployed, he lacked a position in the world. Despite his normal appearance, he was living in the interstices of the city, the hidden niches and semipublic spaces of private buildings. He was invisible.

…“Do you always meet women like that? Why do you meet women like that, you know, with a gun? I am sure there are a lot of women who want to meet you without the need of the gun.”
“They don’t. They don’t want to do it.”

When I learned that the assailant had been convicted and sentenced, my mind went back to when this man was in my apartment. I remembered fast-forwarding, searching for anything that could give me a clue to what he wanted. Bits of data flashed through my mind: one out of ten men in the US is or will be in prison . . . One out of four black men is or will be in prison . . . The data I didn’t process was: one out of ten women is raped . . . out of the ten, one out of four is raped in her own home.

My boyfriend was teaching a class that he called PrisonLand, about the boom in prison construction and prison architecture. I had also written an essay that I had called “Domestophobia: An Approach to the Deconstruction of the Concept of the Domestic as a Pleasurable Space in the US in the 1970s.” Was it a coincidence that in our everyday lives my boyfriend and I were confronted with issues that we were studying, that our academic research was becoming autobiographical?
My conception of “domestophobia” was rooted in two ideas: one, that the idea of “home” is a myth, in practice it is more like a prison; two, the house is literally a site for violence against women. After the assault, I made a third connection between “Domestophobia” and PrisonLand….The myth of the “home” is kept frozen as a dream image, obscuring the reality of property as a gilded cage for the wealthy or a bare cage for the poor—a trap in either case.

The house as an icon of “home” negatively affects those without one, who find themselves without the stability of a residence while it burdens them with a deep feeling of detachment. The “house-less” are trapped by the idea of “home:” shackled by an ideology that equates them with homelessness, in constant search for a “home of their own” and separate from any community. For those who gather some wealth, when “home” becomes property, the owner acquires the attributes of freedom; the house is the only place to feel free. In the process the home turns into a cage, a physical enclosure, from which they are unable to leave. For them, the main worry has become losing their property, not their freedom.

…Taking my thoughts about the sublimation of home, prison, and homelessness further, and looking at the situations in which crime rates decline, and yet the numbers of people in prison increase—even as new prisons are built, the prisons in the US remain almost full to capacity—it might be said that prison picks up the fallout from the new economy and provides a “home” by default. The increase in uprooted tenants—transitory, house-less, and homeless—is directly related to the unsustainable price of property, and the celebration of wealth as the only social value. In an impossible search for “home,” community, and security, prison appears as the safest option, and delinquency and crime the necessary down payment.

..A crime committed in another person’s house is an attack on property, against what that person owns, but it is also a reminder of what the attacker lacks, home. Psychologically, this relation facilitates crimes against property in the house, such as burglary, or violence against the person in the house, because the crime appears vindicated. To attack another person’s house is indirectly to attack the person, their right to privacy. In the extreme, to break into someone’s body, to rape, is a means of entering both the home and the body at once. The rapist’s desire to feel at home is fulfilled by being in the body of another; and his denial of the need for home is performed through the violation of the other person’s body. Whether known to the victim or an unknown intruder, the rapist territorializes the home and the body, occupying both. The fact that the gender of rape victims is predominately female and that, traditionally, the place for women is in the home may relate to the identification of the home with the woman’s body.

From conversations with other rape victims, and from my own experience, I came to the conclusion that home is always a point of reference. While 75 percent of rapes happen outside the home, it still acts as a center. With rapes occurring in or near the victim’s house, the only “excursion” for the victim is going downstairs to drop a bag in the rubbish bin, or a trip to the supermarket for groceries, or even to the laundry room in the basement. The door is open and a man enters. Or he waits for the doorman to go to the bathroom, enters the building, and waits in the laundry room, or follows a victim, and closes the door behind her when she goes into the building, or simply gets into the elevator with a victim, and presses the stop button. Or it happens when attending an after-school program; at the end of class, the assistant teacher takes the hand of a girl; the girl is too disoriented and intimidated to react; the woman takes the girl to her dormitory and blocks the door. Rape that occurs in or near the house is a form of appropriation, the taking of something that doesn’t belong to them, the marking of the person as part of their conquered territory.

..My friend L told me that when she was raped, the thought “here it is” came to her, as if rape is something every woman fears and expects to happen. The probability is that a woman has to assume that if she hasn’t already been raped, she very possibly will be in the future. And if she has, she may be raped again. The ghost of rape is attached to being a woman.

…Besides gender, there are secondary factors that come into play with rape. A major percentage of rapes are committed by family members in the home, implying that perpetrators are systematic abusers rather than psychopaths, which indicates something is badly amiss within social structures. The fact that rapes relate to poverty, especially the perpetrator’s poverty, makes it, to a certain extent, a default effect of capitalist exploitation and not simply the result of mental illness. Recognizing the link between hierarchies in a social structure and rape reveals that not only is society failing to take responsibility for issues such as the safety inside domestic dwellings, but also that we need to rethink social structures, such as the family.

Recognizing the economic element in rape implies not only having to try to eradicate poverty, but also having to acknowledge how the prioritizing of wealth affects all social relationships.If wealth is the primary value, the value of a person is determined by how much that person has. If the poor are considered worthless and valueless, they can be taken easily, as society fails to protect them. As crime is often a form of appropriation, crimes against the poor target their bodies,since they have little other property. As a consequence poor women, as the most impoverished, are the most vulnerable.

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When looking at the number of crimes per year in different NYPD precincts in Manhattan in 2007, I started to see a pattern. In Harlem’s Thirtieth Precinct, the number of violent robberies (316) exceeded acts of nonviolent larceny (211). In the Upper East Side’s Nineteenth precinct, the number of robberies was 206, however, larceny increases nine-fold to 1,643. The number of rapes in the Nineteenth precinct is half that of the Thirtieth precinct.

By examining the relation between the frequency of violentcrimes against individuals and nonviolent crimes against property, and their location in Manhattan, one can see a clear violent-crime zone and nonviolent-crime zone. The mental boundary that must be crossed to harm a body is mirrored physically by 110th Street at the northern edge of Central Park. This street marks the border between an affluent area and a lower-income level neighborhood. Most crimes involving bodily harm, such as murder, rape, and robbery, occur north of 110th Street, in Harlem. It is not that Harlem suffers more crime than other areas in Manhattan, but the crimes are more severe.Print

…Perhaps a rape in Harlem, in the mind of a rapist, is seen as more “casual” than a rape committed on the Upper East Side, since the residents of Harlem are more used to being victimized, and a violent act is less likely to be reported. Perhaps the police treat rape more lightly in a poor area than in an affluent neighborhood. A rapist might consider the difference between raping a poor and a rich person, in the same way that he may consider stealing a diamond or a stereo. An affluent victim may be a challenge, a way to get the most value from a rape, but it is also a greater transgression. To rape a rich person is certainly more risky to the perpetrator, since not only is the act more likely to be reported, it will probably be investigated more thoroughly. A pattern of control and violence is created dependent on the victim’s position and ability to respond to the abuse they receive.

Despite bigoted images of white women being raped by black men, rape statistics show that perpetrators tend to victimize members of their own race. The premise that a white woman is more likely to be raped in Harlem, a black neighborhood, is a stereotype. But the premise that any woman is more likely to be raped in Harlem, a poor neighborhood, is based on facts. I am white and I have been raped in Harlem, a black neighborhood, by a black man. This is true and it happened, but it also hides part of the reality. The complete story, the one capturing the full reality, is this: I was poor, which was why I moved to Harlem, a poor neighborhood; I am white, and I was raped in Harlem by a man, poor, homeless,and black.

Studies such as “Incarceration and Employment Inequality among Young Unskilled Men” by Bruce Western from Princeton University, and Becky Pettit from the University of Washington, September 1999, showed that out of the 4.7 percent of incarcerated, the majority were young, black, unskilled, and unemployed. The report could be misread as suggesting that the main element determining who is incarcerated is race. In fact, poverty is a more decisive factor than race: most of those in prison are unskilled and were unemployed before being jailed. The breakdown in the US Bureau of Justice Statistics study suggests a prejudicial hypothesis: immigrants, blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be criminals. But the statistics don’t address the connection between crime and poverty. To prevent crime, poverty has to be addressed; addressing poverty means providing education and work and good wages and benefits.



Rape New York, Affective and Legal Documents

Rape New York, Affective and Legal Documents uses a personal experience of rape to decipher the anatomy of rape.

Rape New York, Affective and Legal Documents is a cross section of rape’s emotional, legal, criminal, philosophical, and economic realities; One will find an archive of the legal (police reports, medical records, detective files, psychological evaluations, lawyers correspondence, deposition transcripts, recorded conversations with the assailant) and the affective documents (art pieces, personal essays, photographs, drawings and other). The facts are shown together with the state of mind they produced. What happens to you and what is your mind at the time; both the mental and the factual conform a reality….

Jana Leo