NYC Women Are Being Punched In The Face, Here's Everything We Know About The Attacks After Speaking With Victims And Police

Warning: Discussion of violence.

As someone living in New York City, I, like many others, was quite alarmed to see my TikTok FYP fill up with discussion of city women describing being punched in the face.

Several videos have gone viral, including influencer Halley Kate’s from earlier this week. In the video, which has garnered 40 million views, Halley tearfully says, “You guys, I was literally just walking and a man came up and punched me in the face. Oh my god, it hurts so bad. I can’t even talk, I fell to the ground.”

A video from Parsons Fashion Design student Mikayla Toninato quickly followed suit. “I just got punched in the face walking home, I was leaving class. I turned the corner and I was looking down and looking at my phone and texting and then out of nowhere this man came and hit me in the face,” she said in the video, which has been viewed over 10 million times. “I don’t know if this is, like, a thing that’s going around, but I guess if you’re in New York looking at your phone, maybe don’t do that.”

closeup of bethenny frankel at an event

The NYPD told BuzzFeed of Halley’s case on March 26, “There is a report on file for assault, within the confines of the 10th Precinct. A 23-year-old female reported to police that on Monday, March 25, 2024, at approximately 1020 hours, she was walking in the vicinity of West 16 Street and 7 Avenue, when an unknown individual hit her in the head. The victim fell to the ground and suffered injuries to the left side of her face. The victim was treated at a local medical facility.”

NYPD police vehicle on duty with a visible crowd in the background

Of Olivia Brand, another woman who posted her story to TikTok after being punched in the head by a man who said “sorry” first, the NYPD said on March 26, “There is a report on file for harassment, within the confines of the 5th Precinct. A 25-year-old female reported to police that on Sunday, March 17, 2024, at approximately 1148 hours, she was walking her dog in the vicinity of Kenmare Street and Mulberry Street, when an unknown individual punched her in the head. No injuries were reported as a result of this incident.”

“It is unclear if these incidents are connected at this time,” the spokesperson concluded.

I spoke to Sarah Amy Harvard, a 30-year-old comedian who posted about being punched in the back of the head after commenting on some of the aforementioned viral TikToks. She described what happened to her as she walked home down Delancey Street around 8 p.m. before a gig: “All of a sudden, bam, I got hit in the head [from] behind.”

Person stands in a subway station with a mosaic artwork of trees on the wall. Exit sign visible

In the aftermath, Sarah has been struggling with panic attacks. Noting how much discussion around the topic of assault can veer into victim-blaming, she continued, “People are like, ‘Why didn't you fight back? Or, ‘Why didn’t you use self-defense?’ My parents literally run a martial studio, I know women’s self-defence. But in this situation, I don't know if this person has a weapon. I was attacked from behind! This person ran away, why would I escalate the situation? Many times women died because they fought back.”

“It’s really frustrating I was walking back home and trying to go do my work, and I got attacked. And now all of a sudden, I have to go to the doctor, I have to pay all these clinical bills and medical expenses, It's just so unfair. I didn't do anything wrong, these woman's didn't do anything wrong, and yet for their safety, and it's all the responsibility and burdens placed on them and not on the city at all,” Sarah further said, emphasizing how hate crimes against women had been “normalized” and how minority women were likely to be more significantly affected. As it turned out, she was going to the police to report her assault the day I spoke to her. She cited the unsafe location of her local police station and a distrust of the police’s use of force as reasons as to why she initially did not approach the cops.

Since coming forward with her story, Sarah has been met with scores of women with similar stories. She explained, “It sounds like it's supposed to be heartwarming, 'I went through something you did,' but actually it's terrifying. Because of the the fact that there's just women all around who are attacked and assaulted in New York City.”

Aerial view of a city skyline at sunset with prominent skyscrapers

Still, the idea that these assaults could be linked to one man, a serial puncher, has been attracting speculation. After all, they happened within a similar timeframe and area of Manhattan. One woman even said that she got a video of her assailant, though it is difficult to make out his exact face. Still, I was surprised to see Doja Cat, of all people, commenting with a man’s name on a TikTok video about the incidents. The downsides here are obvious: Another man who happened to have the same name had to make a video stating that he wasn’t punching women in New York after his comments were flooded. Perhaps the one-man theory speaks to a distrust in law enforcement's ability to solve these crimes, perhaps it is simply easier to protect and soothe oneself over the idea that violence is the act of wayward individuals and not habitual and systemic.

Tweet by Doja Cat mentioning Andrew Wright with a TikTok and stating his videos are weird

Another hypothesis is that these assaults are a continuation of “The Knockout Game”: The top comment on an r/OutOfTheLoop post about the punchings attributes it as its cause. Fears that the decades-old “game” of people trying to knock others out with a single punch is coming back as a type of trend circled back as recently as 2022. The only thing is, as Business Insider put it, the “game is “largely an urban myth and buzzword that media have used as a catchall for random assaults.”

User HorseStupid comments on a potential resurgence of "The Knockout Game," a random violent crime trend

Another piece of speculation posed is that the crimes are linked to the city's rising population of unhoused and mentally ill people, which there is currently no evidence for. Attacks by unhoused, mentally ill people are relatively rare and they are more likely to be the victim rather than the perpetrator of violence.

Suppose unhoused people with mental illness are behind at least some of the attacks. In that case, I can emphasize that this would be a symptom of the city’s ongoing failure to provide adequate support for its most vulnerable. The solution would not be to root out one man but to act for change that could patch up New York’s damaged safety net.

As for the NYPD, well, they’re adding 800 more cops to the subway to crack down on fare evasion.