Subway gropers exposed

So it’s somewhat old news that last week the New York City police nabbed 13 subway gropers in just 36 hours. Any woman who’s ever ridden crowded public transportation isn’t really surprised by what the undercover cops experienced.

Women know the drill. Just as some men reflexively check to see if they have their wallets on a crowded train, women check their bodies. Pull in your backside and your front. Wedge a large bag for protection between yourself and the nearest anonymous male rider, who might, just might, be planning something. Put on you fiercest face, and brace yourself for contact that seems too deliberate to be accidental, too prolonged to be random.

And yet subway historian Stan Fischler says, “Half the time you don’t know whether it’s accidental or not.” Somehow I find it hard to believe that Stan has ever been intentionally groped on the subway or the bus (or on the street, for that matter). Because, as a woman, I can assure him that it’s pretty easy to figure out quickly whether you’re being touched accidentally or on purpose.
Even though the article doesn’t mention the website by name, we can credit the fabulous HollabackNYC for getting the police to take notice of street and subway harassment. It’s really inspiring that their project has gotten so much attention.
The NYC tabloids had nearly identical leads on their coverage of the sting, though the Post definitely wins:

Subway perverts beware: Your next flashing or groping victim could be a cop.(NY Daily News)
Subway gropers, beware – next time you cop a feel, you might be feeling a cop. (NY Post)

Hilarious! But I do want to point out that not every groper is a “pervert.” I think many of them are just regular dudes who feel entitled to grab a little ass now and again. So fighting this type of harassment is not just a matter of keeping a small subset of the population off of public transportation, or segregating women in their own train cars. It’s about changing society’s idea that it’s okay for random men to touch and comment on women’s bodies.

Join the Conversation

  • Jessica

    But I do want to point out that not every groper is a “pervert.” I think many of them are just regular dudes who feel entitled to grab a little ass now and again.

    I’m glad you brought this up. It’s not always scary creepy overcoat guys who do this shit. Men’s sense of entitlement to women’s bodies is so fucking normalized, everyone thinks they deserve a piece. Pretty much every guy who has flashed me or grabbed be on the subway (in NY) has been “normal” looking.

  • Ann

    Me, too. Except for that guy who attempted to chase after me with his pants around his ankles, screaming “I’m touching myself!!!” I’d put him in the pervert category.

  • EG

    I’m glad you called out that ridiculous Stan Fischler quotation–it made me so angry to read that. Really, how the hell would he know? It’s pretty damn easy to tell the difference between getting squashed up in a subway car and between someone putting their hand on your ass.

  • jack (aka angrybrownbutch)

    As a frequent subway rider with a female-appearing body, I definitely get worried and creeped out on crowded trains.
    This part of the NYTimes article worries me, though:

    Some crime and subway experts with long memories offered a cautionary tale yesterday. A subway police squad in 1983 and 1984 looking for lewd behavior led to the false arrest of scores of men, most of them black and Hispanic. The men were accused of “bumping,” the jargon for men who rubbed up against women, and other petty crimes.
    The arrests turned out to be part of a scheme by transit police officers to inflate their productivity and win promotion, and it became a major scandal. “It is extremely hard in a crowded subway station to tell right from wrong when somebody is up close to somebody else,” Richard Emery, a lawyer who won a class-action suit on behalf of the falsely arrested men, said yesterday.

    Makes me worry about which men will get a free pass because, clearly, it was an accident, and which men will come under closer scrutiny because, clearly, they’re up to no good. Of course, no men should be groping women on the subway, and it’s hard to be against a program designed to stop that happening. But whenever the criminal (in)justice system gets involved, you’ve got to be skeptical about who’s going to be singled out unfairly and who’s going to get a free pass when they shouldn’t.

  • Charlie

    Jack –
    thanks for making this point…that’s a vital thing to bring up…

  • Jami

    this sounds so gross! out here in the northwest, women get harrassed and ogled, and undoubtedly occasionally groped or flashed on public transit, none of which is okay.
    but groped 8 times in seven years? every woman has at least one story? new york sounds really yucky. this is not at all normal, ladies and gentlemen, and kudos to the transit authority for cracking down.
    jack, your point really just enforces stan’s. lady cops, like lady non-cops, know when they’ve been groped. why do you think a lady cop would give any nasty SOB who groped her a pass?

  • Roving Thundercloud

    As a Hollaback fan, I was annoyed at the lack of acknowledgement of the Hollaback NYC site for helping expose (hah!) these twits. One story mentioned *a* website, but none named it specifically.

  • Anna

    Yeah, it’s dumb that this article doesn’t mention HollaBack but the original one reporting the actual sting did.

  • Zaij

    “Men’s sense of entitlement to women’s bodies is so fucking normalized”
    Some mens.
    I have a story similar to this. At a crowded disco, I was trying to get through a very tight crowd in the normal “i’m trying to get through position” (you know, with one arm in front to cut yourself a hole) when i accidently brushed a ladies ass. She just turned around and gave me the dirtiest look.
    As Jack said. Some men will be called out for accidental brushes, and some men will be let loose because it’s thought of as an accident. Gropers are sick full stop.

  • carlagirl

    What exactly is the difference you’re making between “regular dudes who feel entitled to grab a little ass now and again” and “perverts?” Some vague, nefarious image of a sweaty heavy-breather in ill-fitting clothes with moist hands? I would suggest any “dude” who feels entitled to touch a woman in public–and then acts upon it–most definitely fits the definition of a pervert.

  • Jane Minty

    If I had a nickel for every peepee I saw on or around the subway, I’d have 50 cents. It doesn’t sound like much, but 10 penises over 10 years is too many.
    Plus, I was harassed by an MTA worker just yesterday. He did that low hissssss and mumbled something unsavory as I ran by on the sidewalk…classy (evidently I deserved it, since I had the audacity to run around in a strapless dress)!! Luckily I was going to meet a cute boy for a beach date, and chuckled knowing that the worker could only dream of hanging out with someone like me…when I feel violated after that kind of incident, such reasoning makes me feel a bit better about the situation. I mean come on, have you ever been harassed in any way by an ATTRACTIVE man? Every time I’ve been exposed to, groped, teeth-sucked, hissssssed, yelled at, etc., the source of the annoyance at his very best, resembles fishing bait.

  • Jane Minty

    What exactly is the difference you’re making between ‘regular dudes who feel entitled to grab a little ass now and again’ and ‘perverts?’ Some vague, nefarious image of a sweaty heavy-breather in ill-fitting clothes with moist hands? I would suggest any ‘dude’ who feels entitled to touch a woman in public–and then acts upon it–most definitely fits the definition of a pervert.
    I suspect this might have to do with…ahem…the environment in which the “regular dude” was raised. If he grew up in a family who believed “boys will be boys,” then he might not be armed with what the rest of us consider to be basic respect for women. Also – and I’ll probably get a lot of shit for this one – lots of men are raised in cultures where this behavior is not only acceptable, but encouraged. New York can be particularly bad, because some of these dudes step off the boat and think it’s ok to treat American women in the same manner as their own. (Think: Borat!) Now, I’m not referring to the nice Egyptian guy at the bodega who calls me “sweetheart,” or the kindly old Puerto Rican man who smiles and says, “hello beautiful!” or the Polish guy in front of the gym who says something particularly cheesy yet endearing. I can differentiate between innocent admiration and ugliness, but it can make me weary having to deal with so many flavors of the latter.

  • Gueuze

    Man, ten weenies in as many years is WAY too many.
    In one of my favorite books as a kid, _A Tree Grows in Brooklyn_, the protagonist (on the advice of an older female relative, I think), keeps a gigantic hatpin on her person, and one hand by her side at all times when she rides the subway. She’d been groped way too many times on the subway already. With the hatpin, if she feels a hand where it shouldn’t be, she jabs it with the pin. Feasible or plain idiotic in today’s society, ladies? Opinions?
    Disclosure: I’m a Denverite, and I have not yet ridden East Coast public transportation, which is why I ask if this is an inadvisable method of self-protection.
    Another idea: some sort of bright, permanent marker that you could scrawl the offending hand with. Problem: ruining your clothes and those of your immediate, innocent neighbors.

  • Gueuze

    Another idea: what about some sort of strong alligator clip–that way the risk of spilling blood is reduced, while still getting the pleasure of inflicting pain on the hand’s creepy-ass owner?

  • prairielily

    Or hey, why not a cattle prod?!
    I’m not completely making fun of you, Gueuze… I just don’t think it’s fair for women to have to be on the defensive all the time. At the end of the day, after work, when a woman is exhausted and just doesn’t want to deal with any shit… she needs to have her alligator clip at the ready to snap at anyone who touches her?
    Also, it’s often over and done with before you can react, and then you have no idea who did it. I smacked the wrong guy once. I felt terrible.

  • Vervain

    Stan Fischler is an idiot. The difference between accidental contact and deliberately intrusive contact is made obvious both in the way it’s enacted and by the reaction of the toucher to the disgusted glares or dirty looks given them by the touchee. I’m sure Zaij was embarrassed and apologetic after his encounter, whereas a groper wouldn’t be bothered at all, would probably continue to grope, and might even be encouraged by the obvious disapproval of their victim. What really needs to be examined is the difference in attitudes and upbringing that cause one man, like Zaij, to be (appropriately) apologetic about inadvertently touching a woman in an intrusive manner, while another deliberately seeks out and initiates contact and sees nothing wrong with doing so. Why are they different? (We need more of the former and less of the latter, clearly.)
    It may be the difference is partly cultural, as some have suggested. I noticed in the original article that listed the names of the men arrested that the majority of the names appeared Hispanic in origin. But is this indicative of a cultural attitude that approves this sort of behavior, or just indicative of the fact that there was a large percentage of Hispanic riders (with a small percentage of gropers lurking among them) on the trains the NYPD decided to patrol that day? Or was it (more sinisterly) indicative of racial bias in the arresting officers–a potential backlash to the new crackdown, as jack pointed out? Anyone who’s read the broad variety of posts on Hollaback is probably aware that these gropers come from virtually every background, but somehow I suspect the cops will find it easier to believe a young African American or Hispanic man was lasciviously grabbing asses, and that a middle-aged white guy in a business suit or with a few kids in tow only “bumped into her by accident”–yet gropers can and have fit all of these descriptions.

    Even so, while it may not solve the problem of the attitude of entitlement underlying this sort of behavior, and it’s possible (even probable) that it will be inequally enforced, it’s still encouraging that the NYPD is cracking down on this, because even a man who sees nothing morally wrong with grabbing a stranger’s ass on the subway may still refrain if he thinks there’s a chance it’ll get him arrested or fined. Allowing it to go unreported and unpunished just makes it more prevalent, in the same way most people will drive 10 miles over the speed limit by default because “everyone knows” your average traffic cop won’t bust you unless you’re doing more than that. We can’t expect young men to understand it’s unacceptable to behave this way if we don’t make our disapproval clear and unequivocal.

  • Zed

    I’m not familiar with the social responses in the New York groping scene, but in Japan, where this is a very severe problem, it’s not so clear cut. Women have been increasingly willing to accuse (which I think is a good thing overall), and police have taken to forensic analysis to try to sort the claims (since the Japanese version often involves an under-the-panties grope) — and there have been cases where the woman identified the wrong man.
    There are probably idiots who go so far as to gloat over having done it, but absent that kind of self-admission, I’d be really careful over accusing someone on the grounds that he’s not looking bothered. He might not be looking bothered because it’s the guy behind him who did it.
    I also suspect that the more practiced gropers know how to feign embarassment or apology convincingly.

  • Vervain

    I wasn’t suggesting that the arrests in NY subways are, were, or should be based on how contrite (or not) the perpetrator is or appears to be–not remotely! The men named in the original article were arrested because they groped–or were seen groping other women by–undercover female cops. It’s possible contact might have been accidental, but as other posters have said, you can usually tell when someone’s deliberately groping you vs. someone accidentally brushing up against you, and if you clearly see someone grab someone else’s ass, it’s even less ambigious. I would assume that the undercover cops felt pretty certain the men they arrested were guilty, or they wouldn’t have arrested them, given the complications that can ensue from a wrongful arrest. Presumably the undercover cops only arrested obvious ass-grabbers, and not every guy who bumped into them, whether he apologized or not.
    At any rate, what I was referring to in my post is the difference in the moral and social attitudes of men who grope vs. men who don’t, and how we should be making an effort to examine why some men seem to feel it’s acceptable to do, so we can then look into changing that attitude.
    In the case of Japan (which sounds awful, by the way, and even worse than here) it would still be the same thing–examining the social and moral upbringing of Japanese men who feel it’s perfectly okay to do to a strange woman on a subway what here in America would be termed sexual assault, and then trying to change the aspects of their upbringing that go toward creating those attitudes. That’s a vast oversimplification of what would be an extremely complex task that would take a hell of a long time, but it can be done. Altering the attitudes of an entire society/culture is a slow and gradual process, but it can happen, and a big part of making it happen is getting the message out there that a behavior or attitude is unacceptable. There was a time when a white man could call an African American the ‘n’ word and it would be thought perfectly acceptable (read Huck Finn) but doing so now would inspire anger, disgust, and disapproval in most people. Sure, racism is still a huge problem and some bigots still throw the ‘n’ word around quite readily–but the prevailing societal attitude right now is it’s not an acceptable thing to do. That’s the sort of thing I’m referring to here–getting the message out that sexually pawing women you don’t know is not acceptable and will be punished. Which is why the attention being paid to the issue in NY subways (and elsewhere) is a good thing, in my opinion.

  • Pear

    There’s still not enough attention on the street and subway harrassment. In my opinion which derived from personal experience, culture has a big part in molding these perverts (whatever they look or dressed like). I lived in Queens and frequent Manhattan. I’ve never been flashed, thank goodness. But I’ve been groped 4 times, all by hispanic men. I’ve been hissed at and catcalled by, 99% of the time, hispanic men. All of which happened on the streets. A friend of mine said that these are uneducated men. That’s soo not an excuse. I’d have loved to report these creeps but like someone mentioned, it’s over and done by the time you can react. Most offenders pick women that are walking in the opposite direction. Once you’ve turned around, you have 2 people between you. If anyone has an idea on what more we can do in that situation, other than wishing you had a knife to pin the a-hole’s hand to the nearest tree, all suggestions are welcomed.
    It is very tiring to have to keep your guard up ALL the time!