THE PERSON WHO brutally assaulted, raped and murdered Sabina Rose O'Donnell in South Kensington last week was not a woman.

It seems silly to say that - of course the perpetrator wasn't a woman. We don't know who did it, but we're sure it was a man. Men often target women for assault simply because they're women. And research has demolished the myth that rape is a crime of lust or passion. It's a crime of power: Men rape women because they seek to dominate and brutalize them.

In Northern Liberties - where O'Donnell worked and socialized, and just a block from where she lived and where her life ended so prematurely - we're shocked and appalled by this crime. We join her friends and loved ones in mourning her loss. We're continuing Town Watch patrols, raising money to help her family with expenses and offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

We hope the police find the perpetrator soon.

When they do, District Attorney Seth Williams will no doubt throw the book at him. But unless the Pennsylvania legislature acts, Williams won't be able to bring one important charge: a hate crime.

Rape is an act of hatred against women. Yet Pennsylvania's hate-crime law, the Ethnic Intimidation and Institutional Vandalism Act, only covers crimes committed because of the race, color, religion or national origin of the victim. The law doesn't include gender, even though women face many kinds of violence because of it.

If a man targets a woman for rape because she's a woman, how is that any different from a white person targeting a person of color for assault because of race? Some might object that rape is a crime of mental illness, a psycho-sexual problem. Rapists don't "hate" women in the conscious, political way neo-Nazis hate Jews and racial minorities, or some citizens hate immigrants.

BUT IF THE WOMEN'S movements of the past half-century have taught us anything, it's that "the personal is political": The personal, sexually charged nature of male-female interaction doesn't make misogyny any less worthy of public action than other types of hatred. Some state legislators recognize this fact. In 2002 they added gender (and sexual orientation) to the law, but the courts struck that down on technical grounds. Now a new bill in the state House would add it again, and it's time for lawmakers to pass it. If they do, our D.A. should charge rapists with hate crimes whenever the facts of a case allow.

Reasonable people can disagree about whether we should have a hate-crime law: Some argue we shouldn't be adding special charges because of the alleged prejudices in criminals' minds. But if we're going to have such a law, it has to be just. We can't exclude women from the protection it offers and the message it sends. To leave women out is to compound the injustices they already face.

Matt Ruben lives in Northern Liberties. A public memorial is slated for Thursday at 3 p.m. at Liberty Lands park on N. 3rd Street. To donate to Sabina Rose O'Donnell's family, please visit www.nlna.org.