The video of a woman shaming an alleged subway masturbator went viral on Tuesday and many are applauding her for speaking up and getting the word out. Public shaming via social media has become more and more prevalent as straphangers — armed with cellphones — take justice into their own hands. But despite technology's help in reporting these crimes, authorities are stressing that telling the cops should come first.
There were 741 sex crimes — including one rape — reported in 2015 compared to 621 sex crimes on the mass transit system in 2014, according to police. Those crimes include rape, sexual abuse, unlawful surveillance and sodomy. The most common subway sex crimes are forcible touching and public lewdness, an NYPD spokesman said.
It could be a combination of more crime and an increase in reporting them, he added. As MTA trains get more crowded, rubbing up against someone or touching them is easier and seemingly anonymous.
MTA’s online complaint portal received 221 reports of crime as of July 31, according to NYPD’s Transit Bureau.
“I personally read each email that we receive from the MTA portal,” Chief of Transit Bureau Joseph Fox said in a speech on June 20. “Recently I have noticed a theme: several victims mentioned that they were inspired to report an incident after seeing media coverage about our efforts or hearing subway announcements and feeling that such complaints were being taken more seriously.
“More women are coming forward, more crime complaints are being recorded, and more arrests are being made — an encouraging result of our initiatives by any measure — and a testament to the strength of the victims in these cases.”
Nicole De'Chabert told PIX11 that she believes the subway masturbator captured on the viral video is a repeat offender.
“When I looked very closely I said that’s the image of the same guy I’ve seen many months ago over the holiday season,” she said on Wednesday.
De'Chabert said she recorded a man groping a 19-year-old on the 2 train in December of last year. She said it looks like the same man. “I recorded him without him noticing and I [saw him] fondling himself towards a young girl,” she told PIX11.
“This girl looked like a baby not more than 19 years old and you know I felt scared, like I hope this guy doesn’t follow her home or anything like that," she said.
De'Chabert posted the video on Facebook to warn her friends, but never reported the incident to authorities.
In addition to calling police, talking to an MTA employee or reporting via MTA’s website, you can use a Customer Assistance Intercom or Help Point Intercom, which will connect you directly with MTA personnel who can take your report and alert the NYPD, an MTA spokesman said.
“Doubling down on our efforts to encourage reporting has helped us document and follow up on crimes that would otherwise have gone unreported,” Fox said. “As a result, in several cases our investigators have pieced together enough information to make arrests, and in many more we have been able to gather photos of the perpetrator or other critical leads that make a future arrest more likely."
While the NYPD hesitates to encourage snapping a photo of a sex criminal, photos or videos are helpful when police hunt down a suspect, but NYPD would prefer to get the evidence directly — not see it on social media. If you're the only one on the subway car and you photograph an alleged groper, you might not care for his or her reaction. If you feel safe in a crowded car, taking a picture or video might be safer, but, again, not recommended by the NYPD.
“Be aware of your surroundings," the NYPD spokesman said. "If you feel uncomfortable move to a different train. Get off the train. If you see someone doing something illegal, get off at the next stop, call police, get in touch with an MTA employee.
“Definitely, definitely report it because those that don’t get reported, we never know about.”