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Why are women getting punched in the face on the streets of New York? What we know

NYPD has confirmed that at least two men have been arrested in connection with cases of punching in New York City.
/ Source: TODAY

“Why are so many girls getting punched in the face in NYC?” 

It’s a question being asked across social media platforms, as a series of videos of different women sharing stories of alleged attacks have gone viral, seemingly simultaneously. “I have seen no less than four of these in the last day WHAT is going on?” one commenter wrote on a video.

The stories share similarities. In front-facing camera videos, young women say they were punched in the face in broad daylight by unknown men while walking down the street. Many say they were on their phone at the time of the attack.

New York police confirmed to TODAY.com that one man has been arrested and charged with assault in one of the cases on March 28. NBC News reported that police made an arrest in another one of the incidents on March 27.

While police wouldn’t confirm that any of the incidents described in the TikTok videos are under investigation, they shared that the cases resemble those shared on social media.  

Overall crime in New York has fallen: Police reported a decrease in shootings, murders and other crimes, like grand larceny, as opposed to February of last year. But the attacks come amid a statistical rise in misdemeanor assault. According to crime statistics for this past week, misdemeanor assault is up 10.3% from this time last year, and it has gone up 15.7% in the past two years.

Caitlin Keith spoke to TODAY.com about an incident that took place in December 2023 that shares similarities with the recent viral stories, and the impact it had on her. 

The 25-year-old explains that she made eye contact with a “young white male” while walking at 9 a.m. in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan. The man, who she describes as about 5-foot-10 and in his 20s, began following her down Broadway.

“At one point I felt him start running, so I moved all of the way over to my right and he came up to me on the left, spit all over my face and back and punched me in the left side of the face,” she says.

She says the event has changed her. “Since the incident, my boyfriend has noticed anytime anyone comes up on my sides behind me I freak out,” she says. “I get scared incredibly easily if I catch anyone in my peripherals or if I feel someone running behind me.”

Ruby Zinner, 24, tells TODAY.com that she was punched in December by a tall white man in an orange construction vest, walking about near her building in Manhattan's Tribeca neighborhood.

Zinner explains that while she was alert enough to turn her face so he only hit her left side, the man then approached a girl walking behind her on her phone, punching her “square in the face.”

She tells TODAY.com the experience, while troubling, hasn’t made her want to leave New York. “I’d much rather live here than anywhere else, if we’re talking about safety. Because there’s a million people here and, in a way, that always has made me feel safer,” she says.

Savannah Guthrie said on TODAY on March 28 that the attacks have hit close to home for her.

“This happened to a very good friend of my who actually happened to be the former head of New York City transit — ran the subways — and she got punched in the face in broad daylight, about 15 months ago,” she said.

Below, some of these women spoke to TODAY.com, revealing details behind their experiences.

What do the women say about the attacks in the viral videos?

Influencer Halley Mcgookin, known online as Halley Kate, went viral for her March 25 video describing an attack that had just taken place.

In the video, which has garnered over 35 million views, a teary Mcgookin says she had just been punched on the streets of New York. She points to a massive bump on the upper right side of her head, seemingly from the impact.

In a follow-up video, Mcgookin explains that she was walking on the sidewalk looking down at her phone to send an email when a man punched her.

“There was so much room on the sidewalk, literally nobody was around and I guess this man — I don’t know if he punched me or elbowed me. I literally passed out, so I don’t really remember,” she says, adding that the man was walking his dog when he approached her.

Mcgookin says that when she tried to get up after being knocked down, the man was “screaming” at her before she ran away.

Skiboky Stora, 40, of Brooklyn, was arrested on March 27 on an assault charge in connection with the incident, police said.

Stora has sought public office in New York since 2021, public records show. Last year, he ran for the District 9 seat on the New York City Council.

Tagging Mcgookin in her own video, TikTok user Mikayla Toninato posted a clip March 25 saying she was also punched in the face while leaving class in Manhattan at Parsons School of Design.

“I turned the corner and I was looking down and I was looking at my phone and texting, and out of nowhere, this man just came up and hit me in the face,” she said in the video.

Police confirmed to TODAY.com that Mallik Miah, 30, was arrested and charged with assault March 28 after punching a 27-year-old woman on the right side of her face. Officials added that the investigation remains ongoing.

Toninato told NBC News correspondent Stephanie Gosk on TODAY on March 28 that she suffered a concussion after being punched in the cheekbone.

“It’s been really, really hard,” Toninato said. “I think it hits me in waves. A lot of crying, because it was really scary.”

She said the attack has affected her education.

“I’m really scared to go back to school,” she said. “I’ve just been delaying as long as possible, but I’ll have to go back eventually.”

On March 25, Selena Pikanab posted on TikTok saying she was punched in SoHo. She was approached while using her phone to navigate herself. After hearing “excuse me,” she looked up and saw a man holding his fist up “ready to swing” so she backed away and he punched her in the shoulder. She said she screamed and took out a taser attached to her backpack, and the man ran away.

In a video posted March 26, a TikTok user @kendalllllllll888 ices a bump on her head as she says, “I have fallen victim to the men in New York City … trying to punch innocent girls in the street.” She says she was assaulted while walking through Times Square with her coworkers, and she wasn’t on her phone.

The women describe an array of perpetrators, though some are making connections by watching each others’ videos. 

After seeing the slate of videos, @malous228 shared what happened to her in Times Square on March 23, when a “random man … punched her in the head.” She also posted a video of the alleged perpetrator, who was wearing a red coat. 

“It was a traumatic experience and something that is going to tick with me for the ret of my life,” she says.

In a video shared March 26, user @meredithfryy shared a video on TikTok saying she had almost been punched in the face by a person she described as a 5-foot-10 Black man wearing a red jacket.

She added that the man in @malous228’s was the “clearly the same man” who had tried to attack her, wearing the “same jacket.” The user noted that she also wasn't on her phone.

While multiple videos went viral on March 25 and 26, there is evidence of earlier attacks.

TikTok user @olivia.brand’s posted March 17 an account saying, “I literally just got punched by some man on the sidewalk. He goes, ‘Sorry,’ the punches me in the head.” TikToker Jill Burke posted a video Feb. 8 with a black eye. She says a man “slammed” a bag of heavy items on her face, leading to a concussion and a possible chipped bone.