City Council, NYPD Address Subway Harassment

Earlier today, New York City officials met to discuss one nasty and pervasive problem facing commuters: Sexual harassment on the subway.

Representatives from the City Council met with the N.Y.P.D. and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in order to address the issue of sexual harassment and assault, which James P. Hall, chief of the Police Department's Transit Bureau, describes as the "No. 1 quality of life offense on the subway." Hall reports that as of November 15th, there had already been 587 reports of sex offenses on the subway, but he believes this number does not accurately reflect the disturbingly commonplace nature of this type of public harassment. "we strongly suspect this is a highly under-reported crime," he said.

Earlier this year, Sadie delved deep into the complicated issue of Someone Masturbating Against Me In A Crowded Subway (or, to make things more simple, SMAMIACA). Judging from her experience, the hundreds of comments, and my own uncomfortable trolley ride a couple of weeks ago, I'm going to go ahead and agree with Hall: This happens way more often than police reports reflect. But the NYPD is trying to do something about it: Hall describes a campaign that has been in place since 2006, aptly titled Operation Exposure, in which cops go undercover to bust subway creepers. They've also developed a protocol for receiving cell phone pictures from victims, which sounds like it could be a very effective way of catching the men (because it is usually men) who do this.

Police also seem to have a pretty good idea of the kind of guy they're looking for, the City Room reports:

The police have arrested 412 people for sex offenses in the subway so far this year. Of the 412, 71 had committed prior sexual offenses and 14 were registered sex offenders. Five of the 14 were the most serious level of sex offender, Level 3.

The average perpetrator is a 39-year-old male, while the vast majority of victims are females over 17 years old. "It's a crime that goes more to a middle-aged individual," Chief Hall said. In contrast, other crimes in the subway generally involve younger men, from 17 to 25 years old, he said.

The fact that 17% of the men arrested for subway harassment were already known sex offenders is downright scary. And given the many, many cases that are never reported, much less result in arrest, the real number is no doubt much higher.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has decided to focus on PSAs that encourage women to speak up about inappropriate behavior on the subway. Unfortunately, they only run the poster campaigns for a few months at a time. And, as Sadie noted, one of the biggest problems with subway harassment is the ambiguity of the thing. It is difficult to muster up the courage to report something when you're not even sure if it really happened, which is why I'm standing in support of Councilman Peter F. Vallone's idea: posting a "wall of shame" for convicted offenders. Although it's by no means a perfect solution (and, it should be added, not one that authorities have decided to adopt) the emphasis is finally on the right person: the perpetrator. Because the question shouldn't just be how do we get more victims to report it but how can we get men to stop?

Sexual Harassment Is 'No. 1 Quality Of Life Offense On Subway,' Police Say
[NYT City Room]

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