Vilma Ruiz says she feels like a prisoner in her own neighborhood.
“If it’s after 7 p.m., I don’t go out,” said Ruiz as she walked down Meridian Street in East Boston on Thursday afternoon, her two young children in tow. “If I run out of milk, I’ll tell my husband to swing by the store and pick some up when he leaves work, because I don’t dare leave the house.”
Ruiz, like other women in East Boston, is on high alert after a spike in recent months in violence, particularly assaults on women. According to Boston Police Department data, there have been seven assaults on women, including a home invasion and attempted rape, in the past three months. The assailants remain at large.
Police do not believe all the assaults are related, said Kelly Nee, deputy superintendent in the department’s Bureau of Investigative Services. “We’re getting very, very little physical evidence, because a lot of the women have been grabbed from behind,” Nee said.
Police have stepped up patrols, including bringing in additional Sexual Assault Unit detectives, to help break the cases, Nee said.
The latest incident happened about 1 a.m. Wednesday, when a woman reported being physically assaulted as she walked along Meridian Street, shortly after exiting the Maverick MBTA station. The victim told police a man approached her from behind and pushed her to the ground. A witness across the street came to her aid, scaring off the assailant, according to a police report.
As a result, officers were sent to the Maverick MBTA station Wednesday and Thursday nights to distribute leaflets with safety tips to women walking alone, Nee said.
“They’re telling them don’t get distracted with headphones, cellphones,” Nee said. “If you can walk with somebody, do so or have somebody come meet you.”
Wednesday’s victim was the seventh woman to report being assaulted in East Boston since August. In August, a woman reported being sexually assaulted by two men who forced her into their vehicle near the McKay School on Cottage Street.
On Sept. 19, an armed man reportedly broke into the Coleridge Street home of two women, held them at gunpoint, demanded money, attempted to rape them, and viciously beat one with his gun.
A few days later, between late Sept. 25 and early the next morning, there were three separate reports of indecent assaults on three women, two within minutes of each other. The assaults were reported in the areas of Princeton and Putnam streets, Lexington and Putnam streets, and Brooks and Paris streets.
Juliana Mira, 17, who lives in Revere but frequently visits East Boston, said her grandmother has warned her about the assaults, making her especially vigilant of her surroundings.
Lisandra Santana lived in East Boston for nine years before moving her family to Everett because violence “was starting to get out of hand,” she said. She still works in East Boston, but as soon as 5 p.m. rolls around, Santana is gone.
“I don’t hang around,” she said. “I just go straight to the car.”
There is an unease among East Boston residents, particularly among Latino women, who can be hesitant to report crimes because of issues of shame or immigration status, said Gloribell Mota, director of the community group Neighbors United for a Better East Boston.
“There’s a huge issue with assaults on women,” Mota said. “One of the things that’s striking that we hear a lot is that people are not reporting these crimes, or they’re reporting them four or five days later.”
Mota said residents complain that police patrols are not adequate.
“We shouldn’t have to wait until there is an escalated event to [see] the presence of the police,” Mota said.
Nee said she understands that there is alarm but emphasized that East Boston is one of the city’s safest neighborhoods, with crime overall falling 2 percent so far this year, compared with the same period last year. But police data show slight increases in homicide, rape, and robbery.
“These crimes are very concerning to all of us,” Nee said. “We have resources devoted to it. We’re keeping our fingers crossed, and we’re confident we’ll eventually break these.”
Information about the assaults can be given to detectives by calling 617-343-4234 or through the anonymous tip line at 800-494-8477.