It's been a year since the MTA launched an ad campaign targeting sexual harassment on mass transit with public service announcements and a new portal on the website for victims to file complaints.
The increased resources by transit and police have led to an increase in reported sex crimes, which is good news for NYPD Transit Chief Joseph Fox, who thinks perpertrators will learn the agency takes these incidents seriously.
There have been 325 complaints since the new portal debuted, MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz told Metro. The transit agency did not previously track sexual complaints independently of the NYPD.
“We take these incidents seriously which is why we created the portal so that both victims and witnesses can file complaints,” Ortiz said.
Fox told Metro the department has a “renewed” strategy in the last year on how to police sexual harassment and crimes in the subway, and personally emails all victims who come forward.
“This type of crime to a great extent is underreported, and there are a number of reasons why women don’t report,” Fox said. “Sometimes when people are in transit they’re in a hurry, or they’re aggravated, they want the event to be over. We want people to know we care deeply about these crimes, we all have wives and daughters and mothers. These type of crimes happen in transit and crowded places. Few men know that these happen, but far too many women do.”
Fox said reports filed through the MTA portal are forwarded to him. This year, he has received 187 reports, and 57 of those were investigated by transit police. The lower number is due to victims who want to remain anonymous and don't leave information on how to reach them, Fox said. There have been four arrests, and many of the cases are still open.
Out of the 57 complaints, 31 victims included photos that detectives can use for wanted posters, Fox said.
In July, Fox told the MTA board the number of reported sex crimes in the subway was up. The same was true in November, Fox said, adding that he’s “happy” with the uptick.
“This tells me more people are aware we take these [crimes] seriously," Fox said.
Through Nov. 11, there have been 642 reported sexual crimes that range from forcible touching to photographing to lewd behavior [one of them was a rape], compared to 547 during that same time period in 2014. Of those cases, there have been 350 arrests, which is consistent with the 2014 arrest rate, Fox said.
In 2014, there were a total of 620 reported sex crimes and 403 arrests.
In 2013, there were 646 reported crimes, 595 in 2012 and 676 in 2011.
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One of the new tactics Fox introduced earlier this year is adding more female officers on plainclothes teams patrolling the subway. Fox said the female officers will take a brief impact statement which the district attorney can use to prosecute — so the victim doesn't have to go to the precinct for a lengthy affidavit. People shooting cell phone photos and video help, as had the MTA’s audible announcements and officer training with anti-street harassment campaign Hollaback!
“It’s hard to talk about improvement, we are more about raising awareness, which means more people are possibly going to come forward,” said Debjani Roy, deputy director of Hollaback!
“We’ve been training MTA officers, lieutenants, sergeants and higher ranking officials to talk a bit about what they can do to support victims, and not necessarily to rely solely on reporting [the crime] as a solution. They need support, and want to know what their options are.”
Roy said her organization, which recently launched an app that lets user map street harassment, would like to see a larger scale PSA and poster campaign targeting sexual assault and harassment on the transit system.