Hearing Explores Solutions To Widespread Harassment Of Women In Subways
The pervasive problem of women being sexually harassed and assaulted in subway cars was taken up at a City Council hearing last week where NYPD and MTA representatives testified along with straphanger and women’s advocacy groups.
The hearings were held jointly by Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr., chair of the Committee on Public Safety, and Councilmember John Liu, who heads the Transportation Committee.
Vallone said solutions must be found to deal with the problems. “It appears that the majority of women in the city have experienced some form of sexual harassment on the subway at some point in their lives,” he said.
Liu (D–Flushing) took exception at one point when someone testifying called it a “quality of life issue”. Liu interrupted, snapping, “It’s an issue of safety, the safety of women riding the subway.”
During the hearing, NYPD Transit Chief James P. Hall, defining the scope of the problem, said, “The vast majority of victims are women over 17 years old.” Hall also reported that the NYPD has arrested 412 individuals who during the past year committed sex offenses on the subway. He added the average offender is a 39-year-old male. Of 405 perpetrators arrested, he said, 71 or 18 percent had committed prior sex offenses and 14 were registered sex offenders.
Vallone (D–Astoria) suggested the MTA work with the NYPD to compile a list of convicted subway offenders and publish their names along with their photographs online, which might serve as a deterrent.
But Liu stated, “These enforcement actions on the part of the NYPD are somewhat random because they are limited in terms of resources.” Liu suggested investing more resources to combat a prevalent problem that creates such dangerous situations.
“There is a clamor for more enforcement, more prevention, for this type of criminal behavior on our subways,” Liu declared.
Prior attempts to deal with the problem apparently have not been too successful.
Hall said the NYPD started a campaign in 2006 called “Operation Exposure” in which undercover officers went out to look for perverts in the subway. On one day they busted five men.
Vallone recalled that he had worked with the MTA last year to help combat the problem by crafting a targeted message posted inside of subways as part of its “Sub Talk” series. The advertisement reads, Vallone said: “Sexual Harassment is a crime in the subways, too. A crowded train is no excuse for an improper touch. Don’t stand for it or feel ashamed or be afraid to speak up. Report it to an MTA employee or police officer.”
There was no indication what results came from the posted message. But, it was testified, the NYPD believes many women aren’t reporting sex offenses either because they are ashamed or they think with more than 5 million people riding each day, finding a suspect is like finding the proverbial needle in a hay stack.
Vallone also recently sponsored legislation by Councilmember Jessica Lappin that requires the NYPD to collect data on harassment complaints that occur in the transit system. There was no update on the status of the legislation.
Meanwhile, councilmembers questioned the effectiveness of public service announcements and displays on sexual harassment in the subways, and why the hotline number for reporting harassment is 212-267-RAPE, which could discourage women who’ve been harassed but not raped.