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Sex Offenses Are Common On The NYC Subway

Sex Offenses Are Common On The NYC Subway

According to a New York Times article from Thursday, complaints of sexual abuse in the New York City subway are up by four percent this year.  The NYPD police chief, James Hall, told the City Council that sexual harassment is “No. 1 quality of life offense on the subway.”  He added that this number is probably low – for a variety of reasons, people are unlikely to report sexual abuse or harassment in the subway.  But New York citizens are slowly beginning to demand more accountability for the high incidence of ogling, groping, flashing, harassing and even attacking on the subway.

Darlene Mealy, a Democrat from Brooklyn and the chair of the Women’s Issues Committee, said that sexual harassment and assaults were very serious, and that society should “not take them as social behaviors that have to be condoned.”  But that seems, overwhelmingly, to be the case – and officials are struggling with a solution to this widespread problem.  Advocates of more serious action have started an organization to fight subway sexual harassment, New Yorkers for Safe Transit, and they support a bill that would 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.  She also spoke to how difficult it can be to get law enforcement to take harassment more seriously – and to encourage people to speak out and report incidents of abuse.  “It’s actually been very disempowering to report sexual harassment and assault,” she said.  The fact that it might be hard for people to report abuse on the subway – or that they might not be taken seriously – doesn’t seem to be considered (hence the offhand explanation of the underreporting of sex offenses on Gawker, which suggested that New Yorkers don’t report abuse because they’re too busy.).

The average age of the man who commits sex offenses on the subway is 39, and the vast majority of victims are women over the age of 17.  The New York Transit Authority started a public awareness campaign last year against subway sexual harassment, including ads, printed brochures and on-board announcements.  But many people question their effectiveness, and say that more concrete action needs to be taken.

I wasn’t surprised to read this article; I wish I had been.  But the truth is, the numbers of sexual offenses on the subway aren’t going to go down until we as a society start taking sexual assault more seriously.  I was horrified, this week, to see the comments on Chloe Angyal’s Splice Today post, “Schrodinger’s Rapist,” which accused her of mental illness and needing to grow up.  Chloe wrote about the daily discomfort and fear that she experiences on the subway and the streets of New York, something that I think many women can identify with.  The attitudes of the commenters showed that, as a society, we are far from taking the issue of sexual assault seriously.  The subway offenses are symptomatic of a widespread problem, which that women especially (although men suffer from this as well) are concerned about their personal safety on a daily basis.  And the numbers prove it.

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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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88 comments

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9:32AM PDT on Oct 4, 2012

There should be a limit to how many people are allowed on a subway car...allowing for personal space so one can see who whats around them...also there should be undercover cops trained to spot these deviants.

9:29AM PDT on Oct 4, 2012

These men are deviants and need to be rehabilitated before they move up the ladder of social disgraces. They DID force themselves on unsuspecting women and should pay dearly...these are terrible crimes of opportunity and woman should not have to be subjected to these despicable perverts disguised as normal people, because they are not!! Normal people do not use people in this fashion. People are supposed to respect ones space and these sub human peices of trash decided to cross the line.

10:07PM PDT on Oct 3, 2012

Before I retired, I took the Chicago "L" and subway to get to and from my job. I can remember at least two occasions when I was touched inappropriately by a male passenger. Just as some of the women in earlier comments have described, I too, was trapped and unable to easily get away from contact with my would-be molester. I was perhaps a bit more fortunate than many other women back then (or even today are): I had had self defense training. The first incident was when I was seated on the inside seat of a subway train, deeply engrossed in a new book I had just started. I didn't see my seat-mate's hand slide down his near leg at first - because my open book hid it. But I sure felt it when he began trying to lift the hem of my skirt! After a moment of shock and disbelief, I raised my elbow and used my other hand to slam it into his ribs as hard as I could. The pervert jumped up and ran through the crowd and out of the car. When I looked around to see if anyone among the standing passengers had witnessed this outrage, only one woman would meet my eyes with her own - everyone else pretended to be totally absorbed in anything and everything else. The only willing witness to this incident just mouthed, "you go Girl!" and gave me the thumbs up sign. A second incident happened when I was on another crowded train. This time, the incident happened as I was trying to get off the train at my stop. I had noticed a strange man staring at me during the last part of my ride and had felt somet

8:10PM PDT on May 20, 2010

Whenever I saw this incident happened to our female friends, or being a victim myself, or stranger especially when one are being squeezed in the midst of crowd, you felt like shouting but your voice can not be hear clearly, and helpless condition. I will pray that God send his angels or chastise these evils doers with injuring his penis for good. Or get caught and being humiliated publicly.some of this people , they are mental illness, some are 50% man the other 50% are coward because he can not take responsible of his own action. some are real criminals after molesting still robbing the victims purse or money. I urge the public being wrath and angry enough to demand action from the law and government's protection.

6:55AM PST on Dec 4, 2009

Alas, part of the problem is indeed the indifference people have to this. I was once harassed by a police officer no less. When I reported him to a superior, he replied with "you are an attractive young girl and he was a red-blooded male...." you get the picture. I like the camera idea. Not sure how much difference it will make because cops will only say it's your word against theirs, but if might scare them. It also helps to speak up. Once I was sitting on the subway and I felt a hand rubbing against my arm and traveling towards my breast. I kept trying to shift my arms and my body to dissuade him, but he kept trying. I finally moved enough away to actually see his hand reaching up ready to grab. I got up and screamed at him "of all the nerve, stop that!" To my surprise, a nice man actually traded seats with me. Someone else asked if he groped me and I replied he certainly tried. I saw many nodding with approval.

10:39PM PST on Nov 30, 2009

Mary,
The problem is, we are protecting EVERY ONES rights, including the molester! Until they physically commit the act, they are just as innocent as everyone else (so we must believe).

Abdul,
Perhaps if we all yell molester and surround the guy, blocking his access to escape till the authorities arrive?
Phone photos included of course!
It would be a nice start I think and would sure surprise the heck out of an attacker.
However, now that legislation has been put in place that we call 911 and let them know where to pick up our cold dead body when we are attacked rather than take any kind of responsibility for personal safety, there is not much left for people to do. So folks shrivel up and keep to themselves for fear of getting killed.

12:17PM PST on Nov 26, 2009

So much for the advanced and civilised society. The offender need to be punished to the level that it becomes obvious that the punishment is greater than any thrill they would have by their crimes.

2:50AM PST on Nov 26, 2009

Ethik ist ins Grenzenlose erweiterte Verantwortung gegen alles, was lebt. Albert Schweitzer, Theologe und Arzt, Friedensnobelpreis 1952

1:42PM PST on Nov 25, 2009

Who said no???? Wow. The punishment NEVER fits the crime so people have no incentive to stop. Criminals know they'll never get punished. Its always the victims fault while we look at every way possible to protect criminals, and every right they don't deserve to have.

10:09AM PST on Nov 25, 2009

in india they have just instituted women only transit to counteract this problem. i think the solution would require deeper moves than that. this is a problem of human nature and social conditioning.

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