Within two months, two 23-year-old women vanished after Saturday nights out at Boston bars. One was kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and held at a Bunker Hill housing project. Another was found dead in the trunk of a car.
The news served as a jarring reminder to many young women that the alarmist stories their mothers warned them about aren’t entirely far-fetched: Occasionally, women do go out for a Saturday night and never come home.
“It could happen to any one of us,” said Marley Goncalves, 23, of Boston. “As women we’re not safe to go out, we’re not safe to dress up to go to a club, ’cause we can be victimized.”
The thought is both terrifying and infuriating. In the #MeToo era, advocates have been trying to elevate the discussion, to educate men about the finer points of sexual consent and harassment. Now come dual glaring stories of violent abductions that throw women back even further, to storylines suggesting those who socialize will be victimized.
“These attacks and murders must be on our minds when we think about how much more work there is to be done,” Debra Robbin, executive director of Jane Doe Inc., a coalition of programs that aid survivors of sexual and domestic violence, told advocates at the State House on Friday.
Robbin and the others had gathered for “White Ribbon Day,” Jane Doe’s annual event enlisting men and boys to pledge to be partners in ending gender-based violence. There, she and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito spoke in remembrance of Jassy Correia, who vanished outside a Theatre District nightclub over the weekend and whose body was found in the trunk of a man’s car on Thursday.
“It does underscore the importance of what we’re doing today and every day to set that right example,” Polito said. “This is a young woman, mother of a 2-year-old, who was doing something that many young women do, attending a social event.”
The episode had disturbing echoes of the January disappearance of another 23-year-old, who was kidnapped after leaving a bar near Faneuil Hall and held captive for three days in a Charlestown apartment. The man accused of kidnapping her was charged Friday with three counts of aggravated rape.
The two incidents had many this week considering how women could better protect one another, with some women pledging on Twitter to a “girl code” that includes never leaving a bar without their friends.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh on Twitter urged residents to look out for one another. Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan told the Globe that people shouldn’t have a false sense of connection through texting and phone apps; they should still keep an active eye on their friends.
“We need to be talking out loud about what it is that’s happening when people are going out in our communities. And we owe a responsibility to make sure if people are intoxicated that we’re helping them,” Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins said at the State House event.
But she and others tempered that lesson — take care of each other — with a sobering reality check: The blame lies with the perpetrators.
“Women should be free to go out and enjoy themselves and have a birthday party celebration without being kidnapped and murdered, quite frankly,” Rollins said. “We need to teach our young men about consent and we need to also make sure young women are aware of the dangers potentially out there.”
“I have a stepdaughter who’s about to be 27. What do I tell her? Don’t go out? Live in a bubble?” said Robbin.
Society, Robbin said, needs to move beyond stereotypes that question the behavior of victims — what they were wearing, where they were walking, whether they were drinking, what time of night they were out.
“Where do you begin and end with that? Every single day we have people who are being abused and violated,” Robbin said. “You can’t say when something is going to happen to you and something’s not.”
Ryan agreed. “It’s very scary to hear two very similar sets of facts,” she said. “I have a young 23-year-old daughter. It’s concerning for everybody hearing those. It should not be the responsibility of women to sort of bear the burden of conforming their conduct.”
Personal safety measures are important, of course, for everyone, said Gina Scaramella, executive director of the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center. “What we don’t like to see is a sort of clamping down on women’s mobility and sense of freedom when these things happen.”
She promoted “bystander awareness” — encouraging everyone to get involved in ensuring one another’s safety.
“That’s really where we would focus — because that’s where the real opportunities for change exist in all the rest of us doing our job as bystanders,” Scaramella said.
In all situations — and especially in bars, where someone might witness inappropriate behavior to someone inebriated — a bystander can step in. She recommends the four D’s: Be direct, addressing someone’s inappropriate behavior head-on. Distraction: Do something to disrupt the situation, such as dropping a backpack or creating a disruption. Delegating, by asking a waiter or other people for a second opinion or an intervention. Delaying, by continuing to observe and deciding when and how to step in.
“Walk over to a server, say, ‘This may be nothing but I keep noticing this person is doing this, would you mind keeping an eye on them,’ ” she said. “Those are the things that everybody else can do. And there’s a lot of us.”