Leg stroking Metro harasser

May 1, 2010

Before I moved to Washington, DC, I was there visiting family. I got on the Metro at the Shady Grove Station. The car was empty except for me and then another man got on the car with me. I did not think anything of it, but he decided to sit right next to me and I thought that was odd considering it was a completely empty car.

He began to talking to me and I made polite conversation. Then he began stroking my bare leg (it was summer and I had on a skirt) and becoming more assertive in his intentions, asking where I was staying and if I was dating anyone. I remember thinking in that moment, that I should hit him, but I became scared, thinking that if I do not disable this person then he is going to harm me and we are trapped on this subway car together and there is nowhere or no one else to run to.

Thankfully, after passing through several stops on the red line going back toward DC more people got on and eventually he got off at a stop. I was left sitting there thankful for the additional people and thankful he did not ride all the way to my stop. To this day I question any person that is too chatty on Metro unless I know that they are a tourist.

– anonymous

Location: Washington, DC

Share your street harassment story today and help raise awareness about the problem. Include your location and it will be added to the Street Harassment Map.

Metro rape reports “got lost in the shuffle”

April 2, 2010

I take the Washington, DC, metro to and from work every weekday, so I have general and personal outrage over this report from the Washington Post:

“There have been four rapes on Metro property this year, up from one last year, but unlike assaults reported elsewhere in the Washington area, at least two of the crimes were not immediately made public.

Metro officials gave differing accounts of why the public was not informed about the crimes. Metro spokeswoman Cathy Asato said on Tuesday that the police deliberately withheld information on two assaults that occurred in the parking garage of Largo Town Center in February as they searched for suspects. However, Peter Benjamin, chairman of Metro’s board of directors, said information on the attacks “got lost in the shuffle” during the February snowstorms.”

Once there is a report, how hard is it to notify the public so they can take necessary precautions/be aware of potential threats in that area?

HollaBack DC! just wrapped up Public Transit Awareness Month in March and they have more to say on this disappointing news story.

“‘Flattering’ Comments While Commuting”

December 11, 2009

This morning as I was getting on the Metro bus (in DC) to ride to work, the bus driver was standing outside taking a quick break. As I approached the bus and showed him my pass, he said to me, “I’m going to disrespect you today.” I stopped short, and said, “excuse me?” because I honestly had no idea what he was talking about. I was expecting him to say something about my pass — try to be a smart ass or something about it, or joke around that I didn’t have enough fare, etc. I thought he was going to disrespect me as a customer. No, he disrespected me as a woman.

He repeated, “I’m going to disrespect you today. I’m going to tell you that you’re a beautiful young lady.” Well, gee, if you know it’s disrespectful, then keep your mouth shut. Why do some people think women (and sometimes men) are flattered by these kinds of comments? Why can’t people realize how embarrassing and creepy it is when you don’t know someone? I don’t need random guys giving me these “flattering” comments when I’m just trying to commute to work in peace.

It really bothers me that he thinks it’s appropriate to a) use the word “disrespect” in his approach, and b) do this to women — even while on the job. I didn’t say anything to him about it, though, because I didn’t want to make things awkward or worse — I needed to get on the bus to get to work. I felt incredibly powerless because that was my form of transportation this morning. And I’m mad at myself for staying silent. But what do you do when there isn’t another bus around to ride? Why should I re-route my morning routine or make myself late to work because someone has to be harassing me? Is there a way to report street harassment to Metro?** I ask because this is not the first time this has happened — I’m approached by Metro employees all the time and it’s irritating because I just want to be left alone.

– anonymous

Location: Washington, DC

Share your street harassment story today and help raise awareness about the problem. Include your location and it will be added to the Street Harassment Map.

**Editor’s Note:

In response to anonymous’s question, yes you can report metro employees for harassment. WMATA has a customer service contact form you can use to report WMATA employees, or you can call 800-637-7000. I have a friend in the DC area who has done this many times. If you can, include the time/date/location/description of Metro employees in the report. See this HollaBack DC post for more.

Metro Stalker

November 19, 2009

Although I am verbally and sometimes physically harassed literally every time I walk to and from the DC metro to my work place, the most recent incident was the most disturbing.

Waiting in the metro station for my train, i heard a male voice saying “Hey sweetie” over and over again while I read a book, and then was approached by a very tall male who proceeded to “praise” me with what he must have considered “compliments” about my appearance. He asked a series of questions, very aggressively, so I felt pressured to comply and answer, though I lied about my name and where i was headed, where I lived, etc., and di not feel comfortable telling him, I’m a lesbian, I have a long-term partner, because those sounds like excuses with the potential to infuriate. He grabbed my hand and wrote his number on it, pressing so hard it cut my skin, and proceeded to ask about me calling him, demanding details about this future call.

When the train arrived, he got on the same car as me, despite telling me he lived in the opposite direction of my train. I tried to sit away from him, but he continued trying to speak with me across rows of seats and passangers. At a high-traffic stop, I snuck off behind another passanger. When he spotted me through the large window on the platform, he was obviously very angry, and stood up. He was moving quickly for the door, but they had shut and the train was moving. I let a few trains pass and took a longer, more complicated transfer pattern from train to train to ensure I didn’t see him again.

While the entire thing was obvious annoying, it goes beyond that – that kind of control exhibited over you in a public sphere is disempowering and disoriented, and shakes a person’s sense of confidence and safety. The anger on his face and his attempt to get off at the arbitrary station I chose sincerely lead me to believe he had plans for following me to the false end-point I’d told him, which is TERRIFYING unto itself, but especially in conjunction with the series of media stories detailing the indifference and non-action of public transportation attendants/others in the general public.

– Jess

Location: Washington, D.C.

Share your street harassment story today and help raise awareness about the problem. Include your location and it will be added to the Street Harassment Map.

Risky Conversation

July 27, 2009

As a woman, I know that there is always risk in politely talking to a male stranger in public, particularly if he initiates the conversation. No matter how benign or polite the topic of conversation is at first, there is always a risk that he will not know when to stop talking and will end up continuing to talk to you, follow you, try to get personal information from you, and maybe do worse, until you have no choice but to be rude to get him to stop.

This has happened to me many times, most recently this past Friday evening during my commute from work in Washington, DC to my home in Virginia.

Around 5:15 p.m., I boarded on an orange line metro car. I sat down next to a man who had his eyes closed. I read a book. We stayed like this for about 18 minutes. Then about two minutes before my stop the man sitting next to me started fidgeting. As I was blocking his way out due to the way the seats are arranged, he turned to me and said, “When you get to the bottom of the page can you please get up, it’s my stop next.”

I said, “Don’t worry, it’s my stop too, so I’ll be getting up anyway.”

“Oh okay,” he said, “then go ahead and read some more since we’ll get up at the same time.” (He mumbled when he said it the first time so I had to ask him to repeat himself)

I put my book away though because we were almost there and he informed me again that it was okay for me to finish reading that page [as if I needed his permission…].

I said, “It’s okay I can’t concentrate anymore.” He said, “Yeah, I know how that is.”

We arrived at the stop and I got up and then smiled and nodded at him when I left to acknowledge that we had had a human interaction as usually no one talks to each other during rush hour on my metro line. He mumbled something as he stood up but all I caught was, “you are beautiful.”

I nodded again, feeling awkward, and left the metro car. On the escalator to leave the metro platform, he stood on the right side and I passed him on the left side, and as I passed (the escalator was filled with people, none of whom are speaking) he said to me, “I should have gone on that side.” I nodded, to acknowledge him, and kept walking up.

He caught up to me soon after the escalator and after we went through the metro card reader area, he walked beside me and again mumbled and again all I caught was something about how beautiful I am. At that point I became annoyed and worried that he was going to keep following me so I didn’t acknowledge him and hurried down the next set of escalators to my bus stop. Fortunately he went to a different bus stop and that was the end of that.

So in a matter of minutes the interaction went from an interaction I would consider acceptable (aside from him feeling the need to grant me permission to read my book) and polite to him making me feel objectified and uncomfortable. Just because I was polite and smiled at him, apparently he felt that was an invitation to follow me and comment on my appearance, not once, but twice. In the end, I had to be rude and stop acknowledging him before he would leave me alone.

It reminds me of the following quote by Sue Wise & Liz Stanley, authors of Georgie Porgie: Sexual Harassment in Everyday Life:

“Most sexual harassment involves men who think that they have the automatic right to demand the time and attention from women, and will invoke that right whenever they choose. And any woman is fair game by virtue of being a woman…most sexual harassment comes in shades of grey and beige; and more often than not it’s entirely ambiguous behavior that could be sexual harassment, but could equally well be seen differently” (115).

Have you had a similar experience?  How did you respond?

Location: Falls Church, VA

Share your street harassment story today and help raise awareness about the problem. Include your location and it will be added to the Street Harassment Map.

Chicago’s Superstars Address Harassment on the CTA

June 15, 2009

I’ve long admired the anti-street harassment work of the Rogers Park Young Women’s Action Team (YWAT) in Illinois (for example, a few years ago they held a citywide Day of Activism against Street Harassment). Their current work to address harassment on Chicago’s public transportation makes me admire then even more.

Photo from the Sun Times

Photo from the Sun Times

The YWAT recently surveyed 639 CTA riders, mostly young women, and found that over half of the respondents had been sexually harassed on the CTA and thirteen percent had been sexually assaulted. Of those who had been harassed or assaulted, only 9 percent said they filed a complaint with the police or CTA. Supporting the low reporting rate, there were only two recorded incidents of criminal sexual assault on the whole Chicago transportation system in 2008. Via the Chicago Sun Times:

“Ronnett Lockett, 20, a Northern Illinois University student and another member of the group, said one problem is that women might be frightened and not know how to respond. Ads on trains would help people know what to do, Lockett said.

The group also wants CTA employees and police to be trained in how to deal with harassment. …

CTA spokeswoman Noelle Gaffney said the agency takes these things ‘very seriously.’ But riders who feel threatened have to speak up, she said.

‘Should a customer feel threatened at any time as the result of another individual’s behavior, they should notify the rail operator immediately via the use of the emergency call button,’ Gaffney said.

At L stations, customer assistants or security guards are on duty during service hours, Gaffney said.

And CTA buses and many L stops are equipped with security cameras networked to the CTA’s control center, Gaffney said. Some stations have already been renovated to include brighter lighting, and the agency is in the process of installing more security cameras.”

The YWAT is holding a poetry slam about sexual harassment on the CTA to gather more stories about harassment and open community dialogue about this problem too many women and girls face. The event will be held on June 27.

I’m glad they are continuing to address the problem of harassment and assault in public spaces (like buses and subways) that women in their community face simply for being female.  Their work will make a difference.

NYers for Safe Transit: June Community Forum

May 17, 2009

TakeBackPublicTransitJune8EventNYCAs recent news stories attest, gender-based harassment on public transportation in NYC is a problem. Want to be part of the discussion around finding a solution?

“In response to an ongoing rash of sexual assaults and harassment occurring in the subways, New Yorkers for Safe Transit (NYFST) is hosting a forum for concerned community members and anti-violence activists to analyze the rampancy of gender-based violence in the New York City public transit system and discuss strategies to address this problem…

New Yorkers for Safe Transit are urging the MTA to take greater responsibility to increase riders’ safety by implementing better protocols to address violence, by training employees to be appropriate first responders, and by installing upgraded or repairing broken emergency equipment.

Emily May from HollabackNYC, Doyin Ola from RightRides, Veronica Tirado from Girls for Gender Equity, and Cate Contino from the Straphangers Campaign, are expected to speak at the forum on issues including budget cuts, organizing straphangers, addressing violence, and making change within our public transit system.”

PROGRAM: Taking Back Public Transit: Confronting Violence on Board (community forum)
DATE: Monday, June 8, 2009
TIME: 7 – 9 p.m.
LOCATION: Brecht Forum, 451 West St. (btwn. Bank & Bethune)

Please join them for this important forum and help spread the word! (Contact info for them)