Police: Subway sexual harassment the top quality of life concern
The feeling of an unwanted touch on a crowded subway is all too common.
At least twice a day, straphangers — mostly women — are groped or rubbed in the trains, and the crime likely occurs far more often than authorities know, police said Thursday as they painted the most complete picture in recent years of sexual harassment in the subways.
“It’s the number one quality of life offense in the subway,” NYPD Transit Bureau chief James Hall said at a City Council hearing. “This should not be part of commuting in New York City.”
Reports of sexual abuse, forcible touch and lewdness increased 4 percent between 2008 and 2009, with nearly 600 complaints filed so far this year. Undoubtedly, police said, many more instances go unreported.
Hall’s report to the City Council was the first time police released sexual harassment statistics in recent memory. No bus data was discussed.
“A lot of women don’t come forward. It’s a really big deal,” said Tara Rose, 24, who recently saw a man take a photo of her friend’s crotch on a train.
Of those arrested, nearly one fifth committed a prior sex offense and 14 of them were registered sex offenders, meaning they previously committed crimes like rape. Some perpetrators just “loop” between Grand Central, Union Square and 59th Street hunting for victims, Hall said.
“There are people who do this everyday at the same time on the same subway line. It’s a serious issue,” said Councilwoman Jessica Lappin, (D-Manhattan), who is introducing a bill requiring the NYPD report train harassment incidents, as other U.S. transit systems do.
Most victims are adult women, authorities said. In a typical scenario, a perpetrator in an empty train exposes himself, Hall said. Grabbing and rubbing in crowded subways are the most common occurrences.
While reports of harassment increased between 2008 and 2009, the number of arrests actually fell by six percent.
Part of the problem, advocates said, is that officers don’t take the crimes seriously.
“Law enforcement is not properly trained to deal with these instances,” said Oraia Reid, 32, who was grabbed by a man as she left the West 4th Street subway station last August. When she told an officer, the cop shirked it off, Reid said.
Hall said he would be “extremely disturbed” to learn about any officer who shrugged off a report of sexual harassment. Police expect to make more arrests during the holiday season, when trains are crowded.
Since 2006, police have sent undercover officers to nab sexual offenders several times a months. The crackdowns have resulted in more than 1,200 arrests, Hall said.
Underground harassment by the numbers
8 to 10 a.m., 4 to 7 p.m.: Weekday times when harassment occurs most frequently
64: Percent of 2009 complaints that took place in Manhattan
74: Percent of incidences happening inside the trains rather than in stations
39: Average age of those arrested for sexual harassment
What to do if you are harassed:
- Snap a photo of the perpetrator, as police have used these for making arrests.
- Tell the nearest transit worker or police officer. If the incident is reported quickly, the train can be stopped to conduct a search.
- If time has passed, call 911 or the NYPD's hotline, (212) 267-RAPE.