Perverts in public: Sexual harassment on the MBTA in the spotlight, advocates push for speaking up

Transit officials encourage T riders to report sexual misconduct.
Transit officials encourage T riders to report sexual misconduct.

By now, most MBTA passengers are prepared for inevitable delays, fare hikes and cranky crowds, but having to deal with flashers and fondlers really adds insult to injury.

A Boston man was arrested at North Station Monday night after he allegedly masturbated in front of a woman on an inbound Lowell commuter train.

Transit Police said Mehmet Beyaztas, 24, was looking at a woman and masturbating, and “made no attempt to conceal and/or be covert in his actions, and his penis was fully exposed.”

People are hearing more and more about sexual harassment on the T because Transit Police have made a point to publicize what they consider to be an underreported crime.

According to Dr. Carlos Cuevas, a Cambridge-based clinical psychologist, people who masturbate and expose themselves in public places, like the T, are likely turned on by exhibitionism, and will often justify their behavior by telling themselves it is a victimless crime.

“It tends to be more of a compulsive behavior. Because there is no (physical) contact, they feel they are less likely to get caught,” Cuevas said.  “It tends to happen in public because that is what is arousing to the person doing it. Whether it is the excitement of getting caught, or the idea that someone would be interested in seeing it, that public component is part of the fantasy.”

The guilt and shame doesn’t usually kick in until after they get caught.

“They don’t think they’re doing harm… If they feel bad about it they may justify it in their own mind to continue doing it. There is a lot of distorted thinking,” he said.

Almost everyone has stories of being groped or verbally harassed on the T, or seeing people flashing or masturbating, according to Meg Bossong of the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center. “It’s really upsetting. People are totally grossed out by it,” she said, adding that what makes it terrifying for the victims is also what makes it easy for the perpetrators – anonymity and no escape.

“The cars get crowded, and the trains are often moving. People can’t get away as they could on the street,” Bossong said.

The situation is all too familiar for Jane Carper, co-founder of Hollaback! Boston, an association devoted to ending street harassment.
Carper said she was 14-years-old when she was groped on a crowded Green Line trolley, a line that Transit Police said is a hot spot for unwanted touching.

“I felt someone behind me touching me in my (private area). I looked back, but he wouldn’t look at me. The thing that was hard was there was no way out. He got off at the next stop,” said Carper, who now advocates for speaking up.

“It’s empowering to know what to say, to be prepared, because unfortunately it will probably happen to you.”

Hollaback! Boston offers tips on how to handle a harasser:
*Be assertive: Look them in the eyes; speak in a strong, clear voice
*Don’t apologize, make an excuse for their behavior, or ask them to leave you alone
*Name the behavior and state that it is wrong: “Do not touch my butt, that is sexual harassment”
*Identify the perpetrator: “Man in the yellow shirt, stop touching me.” This is particularly helpful if other people are nearby
*Don’t respond to diversions, questions, threats, or guilt-tripping. Tell them to stop, or leave
*It’s not just a woman’s issue – men who witness sexual harassment on the T are encouraged to speak up and stand up against deviants

Anyone seeking help may contact the BARCC’s 24-hour hotline: 800.841.8371  

Follow Morgan Rousseau on Twitter: @MetroMorgan
Follow Metro Boston on Twitter: @MetroBOS


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