As more women speak out about subway harassment, officials call on police to track crimes
Groping, grinding, grabbing.
That’s often the scene on city subways where vulnerable women are routinely targeted by perverts, victims and advocates say.
A recent survey found that sexual harassment is rampant in subways, and victims are increasingly taking back control by speaking out online or snapping photos of underground predators.
But advocates say the NYPD isn’t on top of the problem because it doesn’t publicize statistics on subway harassment or unwanted sexual contact.
“It seems obvious that there is a major problem underground that is going unreported,” said Assemb. James Brennan, (D-Brooklyn,) who will sponsor a bill this fall requiring police to publish data on subway harassment and sexual assault.
The NYPD didn’t return calls for comment.
In an on-line survey of 1,800 New Yorkers, nearly two-thirds of women said they were sexually harassed in the subways, according to a 2007 report by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. Harassment included sexual advances, come-ons, fondling and public masturbation.
Some 10 percent said they had been sexually assaulted in the subways. Most of the offenses occurred during rush hour, when packed trains can provide a smokescreen for perpetrators.
“It’s a major issue,” said Caitlin Pratt, 23, who saw a man masturbate in front of her on the No. 1 train Monday. “I was shaking. I didn’t know what to do.”
Rubbing up against women in crowded places, disturbingly, is a fetish. On one online forum, perverts flaunt their latest conquests of groping women.
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.
Elizabeth Claire Taylor, 29, a Manhattan straphanger, said she was pulled by a man as she left the West 4th Street station recently. “In that moment, I felt so alone,” she said.
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.
Lauren Miro, 21, shot a photo of a man masturbating in front of her on the N train in Brooklyn earlier this month then flashed the image at him. He promptly fled the train, she said.
“I felt embarrassed, but taking the picture was an empowering thing,” Miro said.
Ways to compact harassment on the subways:
- Draw attention to the behavior out loud while on the train
- Snap a photo and call 911 to submit it to police
- Exit the train and find a police officer or MTA attendant
- Write about the experience at Holla Back NYC (www.hollabacknyc.blogspot.com), an on-line forum and support group