In April 2012, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority rolled out an anti-sexual harassment campaign, creating an online form to report incidents, adding posters to stations, subway cars and buses and passing out flyers. The campaign also included enhanced employee training to respond to any and all emergencies. The goal was to “let people know that it’s not okay to sexually harass people on Metro,” and encourage reports, as the Metro Transit Police began to track incidents of sexual harassment on public transit, especially those that do not register as crimes.

Unfortunately, this campaign has proven less impactful than desired. Even with emergency call boxes at stations, posters lining metro doors and the online forum that allows victims to describe an assaulter’s physical appearance, sexual assault has remained rampant, underreported and improperly responded to by authorities.

Sexual assault is not an inevitable part of public transportation. Metro services more than 725,000 people every single day; not one of those people deserves harassment. Though telling people that sexual harassment is not okay through posters is an optimistic start, Metro should not yet be satisfied. We need more safety precautions to prevent assailants from acting in the first place, and a quicker and more reliable emergency response system.

The problem is that when faced directly with sexual assault, many do not know how to respond. A report from the Human Rights Watch relates countless stories of victims walking home and finding themselves being approached and harassed without a means to get help.

When faced directly with sexual assault, many still do not know how to respond, or even how to receive help. Several weeks ago, three friends and I were on the way home after a night out. Tired and ready to get home, we entered a well­populated Metro station and stood waiting for the train. We consciously stood near the crowd on the platform, but we belatedly realized a drunk person had been following us from the escalator.

Our immediate response was to walk away, ignoring the name­calling and whistling. But this was unfortunately not enough to discourage the intoxicated person, who began to forcefully grab at our arms. We froze, unsure of what to do; we didn’t expect something like this to happen when there were so many other people standing so close by. Luckily one of my friends, remembering instructional videos on how to dispel unwelcome attention, turned to the overbearing man, and told him to stop following us, to not touch us.

We felt assured that this would stop any further advances. But yet again, we were cornered by the man, whose drunken steps rejected all of our words. Stuck either moving farther away from the crowd of people waiting for the train or being grabbed more inappropriately, I rushed over to the crowd and asked for help.

One man got up from the bench to help, but noted the disorderly appearance of our stalker standing by and sat back down. We then looked for an emergency blue light, but none of us could see one. Our final option was to call the police, but we realized there was no cell phone service in the underground train stop. The man reached closer

Thankfully, the story ends positively. A Navy reservist walking by stopped in, led the stalker away and saw the students to their final stop. But there oftentimes isn’t a helpful bystander, who has the time and the will to see other passengers safely to their final locations.

I believe my friends and I had done everything we were supposed to do, following almost methodically the blanket emergency response instructions given throughout their education. But that was not enough to prevent someone from impeding on our personal space and safety.

Though no one can say what would have happened, had that kind Navy reservist not stepped in, we still felt helpless, however educated about sexual harassment we had been.

Metro needs a more present and more prepared emergency service to prevent future incidents and develop more trust in its responsiveness to encourage more reports. The incident went unreported; nobody answered the Metro emergency hotline when we reached a service area.

The D.C. Metro has taken enormous steps to prevent sexual harassment, but it’s not enough. Until sexual harassment on public transportation systems has vanished completely, there is still work to be done.


IMG_5494Sophia Yang is a rising sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. The Out-Crowd appears every other Friday at thehoya.com

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