NYC steps up efforts to make subways safer

December 2, 2009

As any woman living in or visiting NYC, or as anyone reading the website HollaBackNYC will know, street harassment is a major problem there.

Public transportation is one of the hot spots for such offenses. The NYC Transit says there have been 587 reports of sexual offenses in the subway system so far this year, mainly on the Lexington Avenue 4, 5 and 6 lines. Harassment and assault are very under-reported, so the real numbers are far worse.

For more than a year, New Yorkers for Safe Transit have been working specifically to make the subway and bus systems harassment-free. For example, for over a year there have been anti-sexual harassment print ads and, for almost a year, audio ads on several subway lines, thanks to their efforts. Recently they testified at a hearing on sexual harassment on public transportation.

Their continued pressure and activism is leading to more efforts on the part of NYC’s transit system.

  • MTA reports they will increase the number of automated messages in the subway stations warning against assaults and they will begin distributing anti-groping posters and brochures.
  • They are working with the NYPD to have more officers at stations, especially during rush hour, so targets of sexual harassment can more easily report offenders. Victims of subway sexual harassment can also call NYPD’s Sex Crimes Report Line at 212.267.RAPE.
  • Building off the method HollaBackNYC uses for “hollaback”ing at harassers with camera phone photos, NYPD is working on a pilot program that would enable victims to send photos of harassers to police officers, who can investigate the case even after the harasser has slipped away into a crowd. This is essential because so often harassers only harass when they know they can escape or when they know there will be no witnesses.

Lastly, here are recent tips released by the NYPD for dealing with sexual harassment on the subway:

  • Do not be ashamed or afraid to report the offense to the police or an MTA employee immediately.
  • During off hours, wait at the marked waiting areas on the station platforms and sit in the conductor’s car when the train arrives.
  • Know your way around your subway stations: the locations of exits and where stairwells lead.
  • If the sex offense happens on a crowded subway car, if you can do so safely, step away from the perpetrator and loudly let others know what the offender is doing.
  • If you are in an empty car, leave the car and find one with more passengers.
  • If you can do so safely, use your cell phone to take a photo of the perpetrator, or make a note of any distinctive features or items of clothing.
  • If the perpetrator follows you off the train, call the police and stay in a crowded area.
  • Remain alert and awake.

Kudos to the New Yorkers for Safe Transit for keeping on the pressure and to the MTA and NYPD for stepping up their efforts to make subways safer and freer of sexual harassment.

Hearing on NYC Subway Harassment

November 20, 2009

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.

More PSAs in Boston

November 2, 2009

A year and a half ago, Boston’s MTA started an anti-sexual harassment ad campaign on the subways and buses. The campaign has led to a 40 percent increase in the number of harassers police have arrested.

Now, MBTA is preparing to launch hundreds more anti-sexual harassment posters on buses and subway cars throughout Boston in an increased effort to curb such harassment and encourage more people to report it.

I applaud MBTA for taking sexual harassment on public transportation seriously. My main concern with their ads is that while it’s useful to have info informing women of their right to report harassers, it would be nice if there was also some message about respecting women and not harassing them!

UPDATE (11/4/09): I just read an article that talks more about the increased efforts by MBTA to fight groping etc on the subways and buses and there are some new ads aimed at harassers, notably this one, so now I support their efforts even  more!

Force the MTA to Release Harassment Crime Stats

August 3, 2009

A few weeks ago, NY’s Metro ran an op-ed by Holla Back NYC co-founder Emily May about how the NYPD and MTA are failing to release crime stats on harassment and assault in the subway.

On Holla Back NYC, Emily reports that since her op-ed, she and New Yorkers for Safe Transit have successfully joined forces with Assemblymember Jim Brennan and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer to address the issue. Brennan will submit a bill to the State Assembly in the fall to force the MTA to release crime statistics. She writes,

“Stringer’s office is currently FOILing the MTA to see if they can get the data. Together, we will put an end to harassment on the subway!”

Congrats & keep it up, Emily, New Yorkers for Safe Transit and your legislative collaborators! I can’t wait to see what happpens this fall.

Related, last week, AMNY ran a follow up article to Emily’s op-ed, including the following about the low report rate of harassment crimes on NY’s public tranasportation system:

“Few victims report the crimes, according to the Stringer survey. Often, they don’t know whom to turn to, or can’t find an officer or MTA attendant. That problem could grow worse, as the MTA is eliminating its station agents through attrition starting in September….

Last year, the MTA launched an ad campaign encouraging victims to report unwanted touching to police or a MTA employee. Transit officials said they also covers about a third of its subway stations with cameras.

Some victims have started fighting back by catching offenders in the act with their camera phones, and last September the city began accepting digital photos of perpetrators through its 911 line.”

Have you taken a picture of a perpetrator and submitted it to the police? If so, what was your experience? Did they do anything?

Is he masturbating against you?

April 29, 2009

Sadie at Jezebel wrote a post yesterday about the  many times she’s been unsure whether or not a man standing by her on a crowded subway is masturbating against her.

She said, “After the fact, somehow, you’re always pretty sure. But at the time, there’s just enough doubt to make one’s course of action debatable. It’s not like being flashed, or getting stuck alone in a car with some guy jerking off which, while horrible, is pretty straightforward…”

My mother had this happen to her in New York City about two years ago. She also wasn’t sure if the man rubbing against her on the crowded subway was purposely doing so or if it was the result of a crowded car, until the car became less crowded and he was still doing it. And even then, she gave him the benefit of the doubt to the extent that she didn’t say anything to him.

It’s a tricky situation: no one wants to falsely accuse someone, but no one wants to just let that happen to them (or anyone else) either.

I’m reminded of various commenters on the recent Boston Globe article about the subway anti-groping campaign in Boston who were SO concerned that women were falsely accusing men left and right of being gropers when they probably were just getting bumped on a crowded train. From anecdotal evidence, I think most women will give questionable gropers and masturbators the benefit of the doubt so I think the fear of those men is largely unfounded. (And funny how that was their concern, instead of being concerned that enough women are getting groped on the subway that Boston had to create an anti-groping campaign…) The fear of being wrong probably keeps many women from doing anything about the questionable gropers and masturbators unless it becomes quite clear what is going on (like if he’s still doing it after the train clears).

Given this dilemma, what have you done if you’ve had a possible groper or masturbator make physical contact with you?

Sadie said she has been known to dig her high heel into a questionable harasser’s foot – and often he steps away from her. My mom reporter the man rubbing against her to the New York City Transit.

NYC Subway Rape Victim Speaks Out

April 6, 2009

NYC Subway Rape Case: Maria BesedinThe young woman whose lawsuit was recently dismissed against the MTA and the employees who did very little to help her duing a brutal sexual assault on a NYC subway platform has spoken out.

“Speaking for the first time since the ruling, Maria Besedin said Thursday she never expected the toll booth clerk and train conductor who witnessed the 2005 attack to be heroes and put their own lives in danger. But, she said, they didn’t even call 911, or yell, ‘Stop!’

Besedin hoped to have her day in court so a jury could decide if the MTA staffers were negligent for only alerting central command. She believed her case would make the system safer for all users.

‘I’m honestly still in shock,’ she said of Queens Supreme Court Justice Kevin Kerrigan’s decision Tuesday to quash the suit.

‘It’s so hard for me to process this whole thing because I just really wanted everyone out there to be safe, to never have to experience anything like I did.’

The petite 25-year-old was still visibly shaken by her ordeal, which happened at the 21st St. station in Hunters Point on June 7, 2005, two days before her 22nd birthday.

She said suffers flashbacks, posttraumatic stress disorder, and continues to undergo therapy and take anti-anxiety medication. She has dropped out of college and lives with her parents in Rhode Island. …

‘I think it was beyond negligence, it was obvious that an extremely violent crime was going on.’

‘By the time somebody came, I mean, I had lost all my dignity, and it was over,’ she added.

Besedin’s lawyer, Chris Seeger of the firm Seeger Weiss, says he plans to appeal within days.

‘Yes, I do want justice,’ said Besedin, who still rides the subway.

As for the court system that rejected her case, she said, ‘It means that they don’t really understand exactly what negligence is and what the impact . . . this kind of atrocious thing can have,’ she said.”

Agreed. Let’s hope the appeal works. Her case could lead to important changes within the MTA.

Judge Throws Out Subway Rape Case

April 2, 2009

Remember the young woman in NYC who was raped by a man on a subway platform and sued the MTA and the two employees who essentially sat by (after calling the command center) while she was raped? Well, I just read that the judge has thrown out the suit.

scalejustice“In a nine-page ruling, Queens Supreme Court Justice Kevin Kerrigan concluded a token clerk and a subway conductor had no responsibility to intervene and were following work rules by not confronting the rapist.”

Meanwhile the attacker has never been caught. Surveillance video failed to capture the attack.

The woman who was raped is understandably devastated and she has 30 days to decide whether to appeal the judge’s decision.

It is difficult to say if any of us would have acted any differently had we been the MTA workers, especially if they were following company protocol. But at the same time, I have a hard time not feeling appalled and outraged that they knew this was occurring but they only did the bare minimum to stop it.  I really wish the outcome could have been different.

It’s Sexual Assault Awareness & Prevention Month right now, and while people are much more likely to be sexually assaulted by someone they know, these types of random attacks happen too. At the very least, MTA may want to rethink their procedure and/or protocol for when assaults do occur so that they can respond better to literal cries for help… And maybe if she appeals and gets to have a lawsuit, they will HAVE to rethink it.