Friday, November 20, 2009

Subway offenses

A group called New Yorkers for Safe Transit said harassment on subways was often overlooked.

I shudder seeing this picture, a reminder of my many years as a subway commuter. I do not miss it, at all.

November 20, 2009
Sex Offenses on the Subways Are Widespread, City Officials Are Told
By Jennifer 8. Lee

The peak times in which women report sexual harassment or assaults on the subways are the late morning rush, roughly 8 to 10 a.m., followed by the early afternoon rush, 4 to 6 p.m. One stretch of the subways — the crowded Nos. 4, 5 and 6 lines between Grand Central Terminal and Union Square — is a particular source of complaints.

People pack into the cars, and more try to get on. There is hardly room to breathe. Feeling someone up is easy, for the pervert who wants to do so.

And the average age of the men arrested this year for sexual offenses on the subways is 39.


These facts emerged Thursday during a joint hearing of three City Council committees — Transportation, Women’s Issues and Public Safety — and officials from the Police Department and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to discuss a problem that has struck a chord with many subway riders, who say they have been ogled, groped, flashed, harassed and even attacked.

Ogling; curious term.

“There is a clamor for more prevention and more enforcement,” said Councilman John C. Liu, a Queens Democrat, who is chairman of the Transportation Committee and the city’s comptroller-elect. Darlene Mealy, a Brooklyn Democrat, who is chairwoman of the Women’s Issues Committee, said that sexual harassment and assaults were very serious, and that society should “not take them as social behaviors that have to be condoned.”

First to testify on Thursday was James P. Hall, chief of the Police Department’s Transit Bureau, who said that sexual harassment was the “No. 1 quality of life offense on the subway.” Chief Hall reported that as of Nov. 15, there had been 587 reports of sex offenses in the subway system this year. “However, we strongly suspect this is a highly underreported crime,” he said.

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

The average perpetrator is a 39-year-old man, while the vast majority of victims are women over 17. “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.

Interesting demographics of the criminal set.

Lois H. Tendler, the director of government and community relations at the transportation authority, said the authority last year started a public awareness campaign against sexual harassment that included ads, printed brochures and on-board announcements — an idea, Ms. Tendler said, that came from Councilman Peter F. Vallone Jr., a Queens Democrat and the chairman of the Council’s Public Safety Committee.

Announcements? Please do not grope, flash or ogle.

The advertising campaign ran for three months in 2008 and is running again through January, Ms. Tendler said. The on-board announcements, which have been running for six months, are recorded messages on newer trains but are read on the older trains.

Councilwoman Helen Sears, a Queens Democrat, questioned how effective the public announcements were, especially given the aging sound system. “They are not supposed to be a periodic thing,” she said. “I don’t think they should be an afterthought.”

Announcements on subways, many, go this way: mumble-mumble-mumble, and thank you for your cooperation.

Ms. Tendler said that they were part of a constant loop of recordings on the new trains, used on about one-third of the subway lines. However, other lawmakers wondered whether the messages were being read by personnel on the older trains. Mr. Liu questioned the state of the installation of cameras, which he believed would deter crimes and help catch offenders. Ms. Tendler said cameras were being installed under different programs. “We’re making progress,” she said.

In recent months, advocates have formed a organization to fight subway sexual harassment, New Yorkers for Safe Transit. The advocates support a bill, introduced this week by Councilwoman Jessica S. Lappin, a Manhattan Democrat, that would require the police to collect data on sexual harassment in the subways.

“This is important because historically, harassment is overlooked by law enforcement authorities,” said Oraia Reid, a founding member of New Yorkers for Safe Transit who testified at the hearing.

Ms. Reid, who is also the executive director of RightRides for Women’s Safety, said another challenge was to get law enforcement to take the harassment more seriously.

She added, “It’s actually been very disempowering to report sexual harassment and assault.”

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