Debjani Roy (left) and Jae Cameron of Hollaback! Photo: Bess Adler
The MTA is taking new approaches to combating sexual harassment, including adding cameras in new trains and an improved reporting system for victims and witnesses.
Public Advocate Letitia James and community activist groups Hollaback!, the Straphangers Campaign and the New York City Anti-Violence Project, announced the new measure Wednesday morning outside the Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall Station.
The public advocate’s office said recent data showed some 3,000 women reported sexual misconduct incidents in the subway between 2008 and 2013, and that the majority of the incidents occurred on the 4, 5 and 6 trains during the morning rush.
James previously called for improved measures, outlined in an Aug. 1 letter to MTA Chairman Thomas F. Prendergast. Prendergast responded to James’ requests in a Sept. 25 letter.
Prendergast said the MTA has been running announcements on inappropriate touching since 2009, and will take further steps in hopes of improving rider safety and reporting. They are: links on the MTA homepage; reviewing with subway employees or how to handle improper conduct reports; a revised map that shows NYPD Transit Bureau locations and a new public service announcement that focuses on bystanders.
MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said 940 new trains set to replace old cars as part of the 2015-209 Capital Program will have cameras installed. Ortiz said the MTA is considering adding cameras in a new fleet of 300 trains. Currently, no MTA trains have cameras in the cars, Ortiz said.
Ortiz said the new PSA is still in development, and does not have a set launch date.
On Wednesday afternoon, links on the MTA’s homepage pointed to more information on sexual misconduct, and an online form to report an incident, which will be forwarded to the police for investigation.
After the announcement, Debjani Roy, deputy director of Hollaback!, an anti-street harassment movement, said she believes sexual harassment in public spaces is “most commonly experienced form of gender-based violence.”
Roy said groping, exposure and masturbation, especially in crowded trains, can sometimes be “hard to tell.”
“There’s a lot of questioning, there’s a lot of gray areas. By having more public service announcements, by having an active campaign and more visibility of the issue, I think it will provide validation for a lot of people who are questioning whether or not it’s really happening … and options for recourse.”
Roy said her organization never advocates for a single response to street harassment, which includes unwelcome contact from cat calling all the way up to public masturbation.
“Every situation is different and often very unexpected and sudden, so we can’t correct ourselves or police our own behaviors,” Roy said. If a victim feels compelled to speak up, Roy recommended making eye contact, keep moving after the interaction, take up space and use confident body language and speak in “short, succinct messages.”
Roy said bystanders can directly intervene in harassment situations if they feel safe doing do, by telling an MTA employee or distracting from the situation by engaging with the victim, pretending to be an old friend, or asking for directions.
“And that dissipates the whole situation,” Roy said, adding that checking on victims after an incident has occurred can “reduce trauma.”
Hollaback! has 79 locations in 26 countries, Roy said, and that street harassment is a global problem that targets high density areas. NYC neighborhoods such as Times Square, Soho and Wall Street have the highest number of incidents, Roy said.