Unheard Voices: Sexual Assault on the Subway

Public transportation is probably one of the best and worst things about big cities. It can usually be pretty reliable, but when it isn’t, it really isn’t. And let’s not forget the dismal conditions that stations, buses, and trains can be in. But despite the downfalls, it’s one of the best methods of transportation in cities. That’s why millions of people a day use public transportation.

Out of those people, far too many of the women who depend on the train system feel like they have to be on their guard – and for entirely justifiable, horrible reasons. The NY Times tells a grizzly truth that not a lot of people are willing to admit happens, much less consider it a problem. But every day in countless trains in countless cities, a woman is sexually assaulted.

It’s not just American cities, either. It happens everywhere, from NYC to Mexico City to Tokyo, where they’ve even made women-only cars. It can be just a pinch or a brush, a blatant grope, and even a flash. It can happen to any woman of any race, though it’s generally females under 20. And I can’t think of a single female I know who frequently takes public transportation that it hasn’t happened to.

Not even me.

Halfway through my freshmen year of high school, I had my commute timed just perfectly. I left the house around 5:45, caught the Q111, transferred to the Q113, hopped onto the E at Jamaica, got off at Queens Plaza and walked up to the Queensboro Plaza stop, then waited around for the N or W and took it to the last stop. (Complex, I know.) Usually, I got to school around 8. One day, though, I screwed up my perfect timing when the E was running local. Utterly frustrated, I headed for the F instead, hoping it would get me to school in time.

I don’t remember what the station was that we were approaching when it happened, but I knew it was pretty far from Queens Plaza. It was well into rush hour, so the train was packed and I had to stand, which my usual schedule eliminated. You know how it is in crowded trains; you’re so accustomed to having complete strangers closer to you than you would ever allow in another situation that you’re pretty desensitized to it.

I didn’t register it at first; I thought it was just some random passenger who was sharing the pole with me. It took me a few seconds to realize that his hips were closer than they should have been, that the rocking of the train did not match the rocking of his body. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, then tried to ignore him, then realized that his entirely purposeful grope had no explanation, no excuse.

As I am now, I would have turned around to give him one hell of a nasty smack. But then, I was horrified. I stood stone still, like a deer in the headlights, and didn’t even so much as lift my head until the train came to a stop. When I looked up, I saw him casually walk out of the door like nothing happened. I looked around for the first time in a few minutes and noticed that no one – no one – had even so much as seen him. If they did, they didn’t care. I don’t think anyone even looked up when I ran crying from the car on the next stop.

Most of the time, the women said, they seethe inwardly but say nothing,” says the Times article, and it’s as true for women now as it was for me then. I’ve heard stories from friends, from family, and even from my mother. And out of all of the stories I’ve heard, only one woman actually stood up for herself, calling the guy out – and that was only, she confessed, because the presence of a police officer in the car encouraged her.

I still wonder what made him choose me, in a car packed full of other people. Then, I was purely convinced it was my fault; I figured I had to have done something wrong. Now I know better. Nothing even vaguely similar has happened to me since then – but the fact that I don’t take the MTA as much as I used to and the fact that I purposely avoid crowded cars most likely plays a factor. And yes, I’m still scared to take trains, sometimes.

But should I be? Is that really fair to me? And what do we do to fix this? Woman-only cars? Security cameras in all cars? Teaching women to be less afraid to defend themselves, or teaching men to respect and value – not victimize – women?

The ideas all sound wonderful, sure, but are they realistic? Women now are more confident and less likely to stand aside, and there are numerous cases that have been heard and men tried and convicted because of camera phones, which have aided in hundreds of cases. But out of the women who do stand up, hundreds of others don’t.

And that is one hell of an issue.

Craigslist is Full of F&%cking Weird People: the Spelling-Impaired Stalker
  • 10614935101348454