The days following the late June rape of a young woman in the West 7th corridor were filled with terror. Warnings that a sexual predator may be stalking the area flooded local social media.
“A close friend of mine was raped at gunpoint at 1:30-1:57 am on Monday,” read one post from user aaliyahkernn13 that was reshared multiple times. “The suspect followed my friend to her car and forced himself on her in her own vehicle. … No one can ever anticipate these horrible situations so please be safe.”
More than a week passed before police were able to arrest the suspect. County records show that Caylon Washington, who is being held at Green Bay Jail in south Fort Worth on $75,000 bond, has been charged with aggravated sexual assault, a first-degree felony.
“It hit home for me,” said Mallorie Anderson, 31. “I wouldn’t have been out that late, but a female in her 20s maybe doesn’t understand the dangers” out there.
The crime has spurred changes to Anderson’s behavior such as going out only in groups and starting discussions about rape among her friends and family, something Anderson said doesn’t happen often enough. The reluctance of men and women to talk about sexual assault may be one factor that leads women to feel ashamed to report the crime, she said.
“Why not talk about it?” she said. “This is a problem and an issue that women end up facing. They may not know how to respond [to a personal assault or the rape of a friend]. It’s a touchy thing to acknowledge, but it can happen to anyone.”
Based on data from RAINN, an anti-sexual assault nonprofit, for every 10,000 sexual assaults, only five perpetrators ever go to jail or prison and two-thirds of sexual assaults are never reported. Last year, an alleged crime inside the popular West 7th sports bar Varsity Tavern went unreported to police (“ Fear Factor,” April 2021). The alleged victim said she had little faith that law enforcement would take the incident seriously. She also wanted to move on with her life and not relive the trauma of being allegedly dragged from the bar by a young man who may have planned to harm her. She was able to scream for help while he was pushing her past a group of late-night revelers toward a park a few blocks east of Varsity. The man released her arm, which allowed her to run back to her friends at the tavern.
Although police presence has improved over the past few weeks, multiple West 7th bar managers have said there’s a significant shortage of active officers assigned to the corridor that attracts several thousand late-night revelers every weekend.
So how safe is West 7th compared to other entertainment neighborhoods in Fort Worth?
Based on information from CrimeMapping.com, 182 police reports were filed in the West 7th corridor over the past six months. With 70 crimes reported, Sundays (including midnight to 2 a.m. or later on Saturday nights) saw the most incidents, while around 45 alleged crimes occurred on Saturdays, meaning the vast majority of offenses in the area happen on weekends. A total of 53 assaults were reported by police in the past six months, while 10 police reports were filed for drug- or alcohol-related charges. Seven offenses dealt with use of a deadly weapon. Other than assault, the majority of crimes revolved around vandalism and theft. There were no reported incidents of sexual assault, and it is unclear whether CrimeMapping combines physical and sexual assault figures.
Criminal activity in the West 7th corridor may be more prevalent than CrimeMapping.com data suggests. Several West 7th bar owners and managers have told me that underage drinking, drug sales, and open displays of handguns have become increasingly common due to the low police presence. Fort Worth police spokespeople say their department is dealing with staffing shortages.
Nearby downtown had 123 police reports filed for criminal acts during that same time period, 59 fewer reports than West 7th. Police reported 14 assaults in the area over the past six months, and reported crime was distributed evenly across weekdays and weekends, with larceny and vandalism accounting for more than half of all criminal acts reported.
The South Main Street portion of the Near Southside saw 155 reported crimes over the past six months, 27 fewer reports than West 7th. The 29 incidents of assault, 19 cases of burglary, and 60 incidents of larceny were spread evenly over seven days.
The data indicates the different crime characteristics of each neighborhood. Assault and drug- and alcohol-related violations are highest in the West 7th area, while theft and vandalism characterize crime downtown and along South Main.
West 7th bar owner Chas Taipale said police presence has drastically improved in the West 7th corridor recently. The head of the 30-plus-member W 7th Bar and Restaurant Association said there was little discernible police presence in the area throughout late spring and early summer. He hasn’t asked the police why they’ve beefed up security but believes they’ve finally been able to work around the staff shortages.
Local bar owners regularly hire off-duty cops to provide security inside businesses, but that doesn’t help the situation on the streets, Taipale added, where the most recent sexual assault occurred. Among other provisions, he said he’d like to see more lighting throughout the neighborhood.
“I would say lighting would help,” Taipale said. “It helps with identification later and ensures that criminals don’t feel as safe as they may want.”
Emil Bragdon, who owns several bars and properties in West 7th, said beat officers are aware of the patrol shortage and privately convey frustration at the lack of officers on weekends.
A Fort Worth police spokesperson said the West Division that oversees West 7th has recently increased the number of patrol officers in the area.
“Our neighborhood police officers are working rotating Fridays, with two officers on patrol, and Saturday nights, with four officers on patrol, through the rest of summer,” the spokesperson said. “We also have a special operations group with extra officers to supplement the West 7th units and NPOs [Neighborhood Police Officers] down there which, if fully staffed, will add six additional officers on Fridays and eight additional officers on Saturdays.”
The spokesperson advised West 7th residents and workers to report any kind of suspicious activity or incidents to police.
Based on Fort Worth police data, documented cases of rape in the West 7th area peaked in 2018 and may again be on the rise: 2015 (2), 2016 (3), 2017 (1), 2018 (7), 2019 (2), 2020 (1), 2021 (5).
Anderson said many of her friends are aware that rape is underreported and underinvestigated. Changing that reality, she said, may require ending the taboo around talking about sexual assault.
“If we are more aware of how often these crimes occur, maybe victims will be less ashamed of filing reports” or acknowledging they were attacked, she said.
This story is part of Inside West 7th, an ongoing series of reports on the past, present, and future of the area. Have news tips or ideas for us? Email Editor Anthony Mariani at Anthony@FWWeekly.com.
This story has been updated to include new police report data.