When You're Not Sure If Someone Is Masturbating Against You In A Crowded Subway

Yesterday, I was Not Sure If Someone Was Masturbating Against Me In A Crowded Subway.

It was rush hour, on a packed express train. I was standing against the pole, a heavy grocery bag held upright between my planted feet, when I felt what may or may not have been SMAMIACS. I was fairly sure it was; it seemed like the characteristic ridge of the erection of a SMAMIAC, but the thing is, you can never be sure! The train was crowded, the possible SMAMIAC may well have just been shoved against me by the press of the crowd. Was he deliberately, craftily moving against me with the jolt of the train, or was that simply the natural movement occasioned by the A train's speed? I could catch a glimpse of trouser legs - they're always suits - but in these situations, you also really don't want to turn around and verify whether that's an erection pressing into your back, because if it is, gross, and you don't want to give him the satisfaction, and, if it's not - if it's by some chance the edge of a bag or something else completely innocent -well, why are you going to great lengths to stare at someone's crotch? (Impossible to do with any subtlety on the kind of crowded train that allows for SMAMIAc-ing in the first place.)

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. SMAMIACS get off on a cowardly, stealth exhibitionism that would confound the garden-variety urban perv in its subtlety and guile.

The first time this ever happened to me - and it's happened to every woman I know, although men are always completely shocked that such things go on - I was about 14, coming back from some innocent foray into the city, alert not to miss the Grand Central stop so I could catch my train back to Westchester. The SMAMIAC - who was probably extra-depraved, given that at 14 I looked a frumpy 8-year-old - must have been pretty obvious, since I was far from wise in the ways of erections and yet knew exactly what was going on. I remember being paralyzed with shock and horror, and jumping off the train two stops early to escape him. When I got into the car where my mother was waiting to collect me an hour later, I burst into tears. She held me as I choked out the tale, almost too horrible to repeat, and then nodded knowingly.

"What you have to do," she said sagely. "Is publicly shame them. They're excited by the secrecy of it, so you have to expose them. Next time it happens, scream 'PERVERT! PERVERT!' as loudly as you can."

I daresay it was sound advice, but you'd better be pretty sure - or my mom, who's never averse to humiliating anyone. My passive-aggressive approach is, if I suspect SMAMIAC-ing, to grind my (always high) heel as hard as I can into his instep, leaning my full weight on that one shoe - with the movement of the train, of course. Maybe a mistake, right? Just like the erection being rubbed against me! One runs the risk, of course, of maiming an innocent man, but the fact that the SMAMIACing always stops after my misstep? Makes me think not. The one time I did call someone out started routinely enough - without enough evidence to convict. After I pulled the heel thing, though, I noticed the creep move across the car towards a very young girl and position himself behind her. I had to act, and my mother's long-ago words rang in my head.

"Pervert!" I screamed. "Pervert! No, not you -" to the alarmed-looking old man next to me. "Him! He's molesting that girl! Does anyone have a camera?!" We'd pulled up at a station, and the perv, along with half the car, exited. I made my way over to the girl. "Are you okay?" I asked quietly.

She looked at me blankly. "What are you talking about?" she said.

"That guy..." I said. "He was...maybe...trying to masturbate against you on a crowded subway!"

She put on headphones and turned away. And, like Meryl Streep, I was left with only Doubt.