Yesterday morning, between 9:30 and 9:40 a.m. (yes, I was running late to work) I was the victim of sexual misconduct at the Fulton Street subway stop, at the exit near Fulton and William streets. The MTA and the NYPD failed to provide substantial measures in responding to and reporting the incident.
I had just gotten off the A train. I was exiting the station standing on the right side of the up escalator. I was listening to a podcast and generally in the commuting mindset of zoning out and focusing on getting to work. I thought I felt my skirt blow up a bit from a draft when I heard a woman scream “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” I turned around and saw a man running down the up escalator. I looked around and realized that the woman was talking to me—about me. She and the woman behind me were yelling about how the man had taken a picture up my skirt. I was so confused. I took out my ear buds and they told me that the man had lifted up my skirt and took a picture up it.
The woman standing next to me, Susan (name has been changed) was incredibly upset because this had happened to her last month—a man, quite possibly the same man, had lifted up her jacket to take an upskirt picture. She even saw a picture of her own underwear on the screen of his phone. He got away, but she managed to get some blurry pictures of him on the platform. She is almost certain he was wearing the same thing that day–a two-toned silver windbreaker and a backpack. Yesterday, he was wearing white or silver pants. He had a dark complexion and dreadlocks.
Another woman who witnessed the incident went with us to the MTA booth and reported it to the MTA worker. The MTA employee verified if I wanted to call the police. I said yes and asked Susan to stay with me. Susan said she was absolutely staying and did not want this to happen to somebody else. The MTA employee called for officers. And then we waited for what felt like a lifetime. About 15 minutes later, three officers showed up. The three officers were very nice but completely at a loss as to what to do.
I was expecting there to be a protocol or a game plan, but quickly discovered that there was no such thing. I kept waiting for a supervising officer or somebody who knew what to do to show up, but instead the three officers just kept asking each other “So what do we do now?” and made it clear that they did not know what to do next. Susan and I stood by helplessly. I was experiencing wave after wave of different emotions and feeling worried about how the photo of me was in the wrong hands, possibly on the internet, possibly circulating among other creeps.
One of the officers left to call command. They were not sure if we would have to go to the station. At one point it seemed that we wouldn’t have to and a supervisor would come to us. But then the officer returned and told us we were told we would have to go to the station. The officers asked us if we wanted to go to the station. I wanted to scream “Yes! I will do whatever it takes to catch this guy and get that picture deleted and scrubbed and get my dignity back!”
They asked each other if they should canvass the area. I couldn’t even believe that this was a question they had to ask each other because this should have been the first thing they did. One officer suggested that two of them go and one stay with us. The officer who had left to call the station said he didn’t want to go again. So he stayed with us, while the other two canvassed the station. They returned shaking their heads–he’s gone.
The officers did not seem to take this incident with any remote seriousness. They told us that that the city was full of weirdos and creeps and that what “sucked” was that if they caught the guy, he would get locked up for a night and released the next day. Not really the best thing to tell two victims of sexual misconduct.
I asked if there were surveillance cameras and couldn’t they look at the footage. One of the officers replied that the cameras weren’t running. Susan asked if they needed the pictures she had on her phone. They took a look but said it wasn’t helpful because it was just the guy’s back. They said they had a picture specialist they could bring in to take a look, but they didn’t ask Susan to actually give them a copy of the picture.
At some point, the officers finally decided that we would go to the station with them and file a report. We would have to take the train uptown to Canal Street. So Susan and I–a Latina and an Asian woman–walked with three white, male officers, down back into the belly of the subway where I had just been violated. People gawked at us. I couldn’t help but feel like people were thinking we had done something wrong.
On the way down to the platform we stopped by where the incident happened. I pointed out the security cameras because I refused to believe they weren’t running. One of the officers took a look but it still did not seem clear to any of them where and how the incident happened.
While on the platform, people asked the cops for directions. They were very good at giving directions. They bantered with a yuppie with her giant stroller with two kids and a giant diamond ring about how she had to suffer in the elevator with a yelling homeless lady and one officer even quipped, “That’s the perils of riding public transportation!” I couldn’t believe he had the audacity (or lack of sensitivity) to say that to somebody who was not the victim of a crime in front of two victims of the same public transportation crime.
We found out that the A and C trains were not running uptown. The cops looked at each other and said “What should we do now?” The officers did not have a contingency plan and without the trains running, had no idea how to get to the station to file our report. I couldn’t believe that because the trains were not running there was no other way for the officers to return to the station. I suggested Uber. They sheepishly looked at each other and one guy muttered that he didn’t have good experiences with Uber.
At this point it seemed like if we could not go to the station, we could not file a report. I asked if we had to go to the station. I offered going to my office and using one of our conference rooms. An officer asked, “Is there a restaurant there?” The idea was dropped.
The officers suggested several times that we come back tomorrow morning and they would be on the platform. If we saw the man who had photographed me, we should point him out to them and they would arrest him and that would take care of it. I brought up the point that if they were in uniform, standing around the station, he would likely not show up. One of the officers said that was a good point. I did not say this but I also did not like the idea of having to victimize myself and essentially use myself as bait to catch my predator.
The officers discussed possible charges. Harassment? Annoying and threatening behavior? Susan adamantly insisted that we were not being annoyed and harassed; this man had touched my skirt without my permission and taken a picture of me. That was at least forcible touching.
It became more and more clear that a report would not be filed. One officer took out a ratty plastic file with a few sheets of paper in it to show us that he did not have the ability to file a report. I pointed out that their system needs to be upgraded. They laughed and said that the system was totally archaic and that they’re still using typewriters. I wasn’t sure if that was a joke. The officers assured us they would write one when they returned to the station and get back in touch with us.
Susan and I gave them our contact information–two phone numbers, email addresses, and our address. They were ready to part ways; I had to ask them if they had cards or a phone number so that we could reach them. They assembled themselves before us so we could read their name tags and then provided a number to NYPD Transit District 2. I failed to ask them for their badge numbers but they never even offered us their names, numbers, or badge numbers.
We went back up the escalator where I had been violated and out into the street. The shock and disgust of the sexual misconduct had been replaced by utter disbelief as to how my incident was handled. The entire time I felt helpless and worse, that the officers were helpless. I felt that I had to coach them through the experience. The officers were nice guys but I felt that they were completely at a loss as to how to handle the situation and how to sensitively deal with two women who had been egregiously violated by a stranger.
After waiting with the officers for an hour and a half, neither Susan nor I had filed a report. However, over the course of that time period, we had to repeat ourselves to the officers over and over again so that they could understand the uncomplicated details of the situation. So after being violated and reporting the incident to the MTA and the NYPD, I was literally left with nothing.
This morning, in the same subway station, I happened to run into one of the police officers from yesterday. He said a report had been filed and gave me the number. He told me that now that I have the number, if something like what happened to me happens again or if I see the guy who violated me, I can go to a police officer and give them the report number and they will arrest the perp, assuming that guy hangs around after I’ve caught him. I don’t know if I ever would have obtained the report number without running into him.
How many times have you heard an announcement or read a sign on the subway that sexual harassment should not be a part of your commute? The announcements tell you that if you are harassed or inappropriately touched, you should report it to an MTA worker or a police officer. In fact, there’s an entire webpage devoted to the subject. Yesterday, I did exactly that, and learned that reporting it to an MTA employee or police officer does absolutely nothing in protecting your safety. Instead, I was left feeling helpless and degraded.
Photo via AP