Hearing on NYC Subway Harassment

Earlier this week I called out the New York Times for trying to compare street harassment to loud cell phone talkers and said I hoped one day they would address the problem of street harassment in a serious way. Lo and behold, yesterday they covered harassment on public transportation.

The New York Times reported on a joint hearing of three City Council committees — Transportation, Women’s Issues and Public Safety — and officials from the Police Department and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to discuss sexual harassment on subways and buses.

At the hearing everyone acknowledged that this is a big problem in New York City, especially during late morning rush hour (8 to 10 a.m.) and early afternoon rush hour (4 to 6 p.m.).  The crowded Nos. 4, 5 and 6 lines between Grand Central Terminal and Union Square, they said, is a particular source of complaints.

James P. Hall, chief of the Police Department’s Transit Bureau, said that sexual harassment was the “No. 1 quality of life offense on the subway.” As of Nov. 15, there had been 587 reports of sex offenses in the subway system this year. He said, “However, we strongly suspect this is a highly underreported crime.” I agree!

Some of my street harassment activists friends who formed New Yorkers for Safe Transit testified too.

They are working on getting better reporting methods and numbers for sexual harassment and assault on the subways. This week Councilwoman Jessica S. Lappin introduced a bill that New Yorkers for Safe Transit support, one that would require the police to collect data on sexual harassment in the subways.

“This is important because historically, harassment is overlooked by law enforcement authorities,” said Oraia Reid, a founding member of New Yorkers for Safe Transit who testified at the hearing.

Ms. Reid, who is also the executive director of RightRides for Women’s Safety, said another challenge was to get law enforcement to take the harassment more seriously.

She added, “It’s actually been very disempowering to report sexual harassment and assault.”

Yeah, like remember when a woman got a photo of a man masturbating on the subway and reported it to a police officer who then told her, incorrectly, that it wasn’t a police matter and to call 311?

Another example – one woman who took my informal anonymous survey last year and lives in NYC said one time when she reported a man that was following her in the subway station to the police, the officer said he didn’t blame the guy (implying she was pretty and so it was natural for a man to follow her…). So clearly there are police officers who need more education and training on the issues and how to help people who report harassers.

But I’m glad the NY Times covered this story and this issue. We need them to keep on doing so!

I also want to say a big GREAT JOB! to New Yorkers for Safe Transit!! They’ve only been around about a year and already they are making a huge difference in the NYC community. Check out their website and submit your NYC mass transit sexual harassment story.

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