Raise your hand if you’ve been harassed on the subway

If you haven’t read this report, Hidden in Plain Sight: Sexual Harassment and Assault on the New York City Subway, you should. It documents what most of you probably already know, that a large majority of people (particularly women) face significant sexual harassment while riding the New York city subway. The report, written from a online survey of subway riders (the MTA partnered with a number of organizations to write and distribute the survey) finds that 63% of people who responded report having been sexually harassed on the NYC subway. 10% of people who responded have been sexually assaulted.
The results got some blog attention last week, go here for Cara’s blog about the survey results, Gothamist posted about it as well as the NYTimes Cityroom Blog.
As someone who has been harassed and has numerous friends and acquaintances who experience harassment on a regular basis, these results came as no surprise. What did come as a surprise however, were some of the comments that this news received–the Gothamist comment thread was particularly upsetting. I won’t give these jerks the privilege of having their thoughts reposted here, but the general sentiment of these thoughts followed a few patterns. a) Complete denial and disbelief: But I’ve been riding the subway for and that’s NEVER happened to me! b) Blame the victim talk: Women who get harassed on the subway deserve it because they dress like sluts (etc, etc, droning on with misogynistic and disgusting commentary) and to top it all off, c) I hate it when women try to get me to help them when they are being followed or harassed on the subway, it’s not my problem and they brought it on themselves.
This might be more sad than the survey results themselves, and probably indicative of why this is a problem in the first place. For some awesome and innovative responses to street harassment, check out Holla Back NYC, one of the groups that partnered with the MTA on this survey. They’ve got links to holla back’s in other cities as well, because we know this isn’t just a New York City problem.

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22 Comments

  1. SarahMC
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    *Raises hand*
    I used to live in Boston, and the subway was my mode of transportation (besides my feet). One time, when the train was particularly crowded, I was standing and holding on to one of the poles in the middle of the car. The man behind me kept pressing his pelvis into my back/butt, and I could feel his dick getting hard against my body. It shocked me. I didn’t have the courage to say anything. I wish I had.
    I’m sure these jerks in the comments would change their tunes if something like that happened to them! Then the perp would deserve a beat-down, huh? But not when they do it to women.

  2. Posted August 6, 2007 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    I received some of the same comments on my blog when I posted about this the other week. Aside from a racist comment (which was deleted), I also got a defensive statement from someone who lives in NYC and has NEVER been harassed and talked to ALL of their friends who have also NEVER been harassed . . . and then concluded by asking if verbal harassment (whistling, cat calls, hitting on strangers) “counted.”
    I think it shows how far we still have to go in terms of education.

  3. CoasttoCoast
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    Ugh. I see this shit regularly on the Skytrain in Vancouver.
    There have been times when I’ve intervened when it’s blatent, but it’s really hard to know just how bad it has to get before it becomes my business. I suppose it could be argued that it’s never really my business, I just have a really hard time watching people being intimidated by those bigger than them.

  4. dbshawn
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Well…i don’t really see what the problem is.
    Sure there was a guy playing with himself on the subway as he sat right across from me. Yes, there was the man whose baby I almost conceived after he pushed his erect member into my buttocks. And of course there was a homeless man who still had enough focus upon me to do vile things with his tongue while I was talking to friends on the subway.
    This is New York, people! City of 8 million dreams. Some of them sexual…
    If you can’t stand being a sex object, then what hell do you think your life is worth?
    (** she said in her most acerbicly sarcastic tone)

  5. dbshawn
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Well…i don’t really see what the problem is.
    Sure there was a guy playing with himself on the subway as he sat right across from me. Yes, there was the man whose baby I almost conceived after he pushed his erect member into my buttocks. And of course there was a homeless man who still had enough focus upon me to do vile things with his tongue while I was talking to friends on the subway.
    This is New York, people! City of 8 million dreams. Some of them sexual…
    If you can’t stand being a sex object, then what hell do you think your life is worth?
    (** she said in her most acerbicly sarcastic tone)

  6. dbshawn
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Well…i don’t really see what the problem is.
    Sure there was a guy playing with himself on the subway as he sat right across from me. Yes, there was the man whose baby I almost conceived after he pushed his erect member into my buttocks. And of course there was a homeless man who still had enough focus upon me to do vile things with his tongue while I was talking to friends on the subway.
    This is New York, people! City of 8 million dreams. Some of them sexual…
    If you can’t stand being a sex object, then what hell do you think your life is worth?
    (** she said in her most acerbicly sarcastic tone)

  7. kayebee
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    No, it’s not confined to NYC. I go to school in Philadelphia, and take the train most days, and usually keep my nose buried in a book to avoid making eye contact with those who see in me their desperate last chance to reenact that Tom Cruise-Rebecca DeMorney scene from “Risky Business.”
    I have to say I’ve never asked (or expected) anyone to intercede on my behalf. It’s a sad commentary on our society to be sure, but I learned–and I think most women learn–at a pretty early age to ward off unwanted advances. Of course, I’ve also been lucky enough to never have been in a situation where my words (and a withering look) weren’t enough to defend myself.

  8. kayebee
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    No, it’s not confined to NYC. I go to school in Philadelphia, and take the train most days, and usually keep my nose buried in a book to avoid making eye contact with those who see in me their desperate last chance to reenact that Tom Cruise-Rebecca DeMorney scene from “Risky Business.”
    I have to say I’ve never asked (or expected) anyone to intercede on my behalf. It’s a sad commentary on our society to be sure, but I learned–and I think most women learn–at a pretty early age to ward off unwanted advances. Of course, I’ve also been lucky enough to never have been in a situation where my words (and a withering look) weren’t enough to defend myself.

  9. MissMay12
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    Does anyone know about the legalities of posting a picture of your harasser and a description of the event on Hollaback? I’m wondering if a harasser can do anything about the post once it’s up, or if the victim (of the harassment) would be vulnerable to any legal recourse. I’m asking because the law always seems to work against women who report sexual harassment and abuse, in whatever forum…

  10. judgesnineteen
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    I was wondering what the legal situation is with this. Is there a law against it? I’m sure it would be really hard to enforce, but could they put cameras in subways or something? Sorry if these are dumb questions, I’ve only been on a subway like once. I just feel like this is totally unacceptable and women (and men) should be protected from this crap. It shouldn’t just be, well, that’s what you have to deal with when you take the subway.

  11. Posted August 6, 2007 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    May,
    Well the picture should be fine so long as it was taken in a public place.
    But if you post specific details about the identity of the person pictured, that’s a gray area. I’d be careful about that if I were you. For example, you probably shouldn’t post addresses, phone numbers, full names, etc.
    But, truth is on your side. They can’t get you for defamation if what you say is truthful.
    However, even if what you say is truthful, if it encourages other people to harass or harm the person pictured, that might not be legal. Sometimes it’s legal and sometimes it’s not legal, usually depending on who’s publishing the personal information and not on what the specific information is about.
    So, be careful how you phrase things.

  12. MissMay12
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Very, very helpful. Thanks.

  13. Posted August 6, 2007 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    The worst harassment that ever happened to me was when I was riding on the PATH once. It was really crowded and a whole bunch of people were holding on to one of the poles. This older man, I think he was Pakistani or Indian, kept stroking my hand & I kept moving it away. It wasn’t accidental bumping or touching, it’s like he thought it was really sexy. I’m usually so outspoken, but this left me silent.
    I also saw a homeless guy masturbating at the bus stop. I don’t know why, but that just really, really upset me. It made me want to throw up.
    This is why I got a camera phone, I don’t want these perverts to go around treating women like their personal blow-up dolls.
    I’m planning a trip to Japan for the spring, so I’ve been reading about Japanese culture & customs. Several books have said that if you’re ever touched on the very crowded train systems, you’re supposed to grab the offender’s hand & shout “Pervert!” I was thinking of doing that the next time something similar happened in America.

  14. Posted August 6, 2007 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been harassed on NYC streets plenty of times, but never on the subway, and that’s after 25+ years of riding. That’s not to say I don’t get rude appearance-based comments (once a subway “performer” berated me about my arms being too hairy), but they’ve never been sexual in nature.

  15. Posted August 6, 2007 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    I was wondering what the legal situation is with this. Is there a law against it?

    judgesnineteen–
    In response to your question, the report addresses this issue, explaining that the definition they use of sexual assault and harassment is broader than what the law protects you against. The community groups had a large part in expanding the definition because they wanted to document a broader scope of these incidents.
    Here is what the survey used as a definition:
    The way the survey defined these two terms is important:

    Sexual harassment was defined as ‘unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, including flashing, groping, fondling, and public masturbation.’ Sexual assault was defined as ‘any non-consensual sexual acts, including attempted rape, forced oral/anal intercourse, rape, and aggravated touching.’

    It seems that these incidences are very hard to prove, and usually only prosecuted if they happen in conjunction with a more serious crime.
    The things that were suggested to address the problem were as follows:
    -More NYPD in the subway
    -Brighter lights in dark areas
    -More emergency buttons
    -Public education campaign to address the seriousness and legality of this type of harassment
    -Miriam

  16. Tcupnewt
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    “…most women learn–at a pretty early age to ward off unwanted advances.”
    Not true. I was really awkward and unremarkable when I was little and never was harassed until a couple of years ago when I kind of blossomed. Over the last week I got 5 instances in 4 days and when it’s comments like “I’m hung like a donkey” I’m fine, but more insidious contact is completely out of my depth — much more so than any other person I know.

  17. Mina
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    “‘…most women learn–at a pretty early age to ward off unwanted advances.’
    “Not true. I was really awkward and unremarkable when I was little and never was harassed until a couple of years ago when I kind of blossomed.”
    I can relate, except I haven’t blossomed yet.
    Meanwhile, once on a packed subway train I’d managed to get a seat and someone who got on later (after all the seats were taken) and was standing had her butt on my arm for a moment before I pulled my arm more against my book bag (holding it closer to my chest). It seemed like she would have stood further away from me if she’d had any room to.

  18. haydin
    Posted August 6, 2007 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    I guess the only thing that concerns me about the study is that it was done only via email and was opt-in. By using email they probably selected against poorer and less-internet savvy folks. Also, since it was opt-in, it strongly selected for people who had been harassed since they would be most likely to click through to the website and answer questions. I wish I knew the percentage of people contacted who responded to the survey.

  19. Posted August 7, 2007 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    I don’t recall what it’s called, but saw in the Spring edition of Ms. Magazine. In India, a new movement of harrassing the harrassers has taken place, in which pictures of men are posted online as a way to confront sexism on public transporation systems and such.
    It’s quite the read and can be found at blanknoiseproject.blogspot.com

  20. Posted August 7, 2007 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t been verbally harassed or groped, but a Hasidic Jew was staring at my boobs on the train the other day. Basically all the way from Brooklyn to 14th street.

  21. Posted August 16, 2007 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    I would be interested in seeing this paired up with a study on harassment just walking down the street.

  22. Posted August 16, 2007 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    “One time, when the train was particularly crowded, I was standing and holding on to one of the poles in the middle of the car. The man behind me kept pressing his pelvis into my back/butt, and I could feel his dick getting hard against my body. It shocked me. I didn’t have the courage to say anything. I wish I had.”
    SarahMC–I could have written the exact same words! The statement that
    “…most women learn–at a pretty early age to ward off unwanted advances.”
    is just dead wrong. Most women learn to be polite and not to create a fuss and to assume that they may be exaggerating whatever it is that is happening to them. That was so ingrained in me that I used to be paralyzed in the face of such harassment (actually I would call it what it is–sexual assault.)
    Now, at the least little hint, I will scream, call names, alert the other riders, and apologize later if I made a mistake.
    Once a group of my students were on the subway in an unfamiliar city, and even they, with whom I had discussions about this, fell silent in the face of such an assault, each thinking it couldn’t really be happening, until they got off the train and one of them had sperm all over the back of her coat.
    She threw up.

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