We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

Success! You're on the list.

Over the past week, Holla Back DC has received two very similar reports of a man masturbating on Metro’s Orange Line. The first incident occurred near the Metro Center stop on a train heading toward Vienna; the second occurred near the L’Enfant Plaza stop in the same direction. In both, a man targeted a female passenger and proceeded to masturbate at her.

From the first incident:

I was playing solitaire on my phone, not really paying attention to what was going on around me. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a man, about 5’10″ wearing a white t-shirt tucked into black gym shorts wearing a backpack. I noticed him because he was standing closer than most people do. I saw a jacking off type motion out of the corner of my eye, but wasn’t sure that is what I was seeing so didn’t look over.

When the train arrived I hurried toward the front of the car to sit down. A man came and sat down beside me. I thought it might have been the same man but I wasn’t sure. When a similar motion caught my eye again I looked down and realized his penis was outside of his shorts and he was using a grey sweatshirt to prevent other passengers (other than me) to see what he was doing.

From the second:

I was engrossed in a book and on “auto-pilot” on the way to work. When I got on the train, a man sat down next to me, in the seat closest to the aisle. I sat next to him for about 10 minutes before I realized he was masturbating right next to me. I was shocked! When he realized that I had noticed he started talking to me, and making comments about oral sex. The train car wasn’t full, but there were many people in my near vicinity including families with small children. I had to ask him to get up and let me out, which thankfully he did, and moved to another car.

The first victim reacted in the way that many victims of public sexual harassment and assault do—-she froze. Later, she reported the experience to Holla Back:

I took a minute to think of what to do—-snap a picture, no because I don’t know how to turn off the picture taking sound on my phone—-say something? no, what if he is a psyco, plus bad shit happens to people all the time when they say the wrong thing to the wrong person—-even if there are many others around. I picked a third option—-I got up, walked around him (luckily I was in the seat with no seats in front of it) and took a seat next to a woman.I feel bad because by not saying anything I may have made him more likely to do this to another woman, but at the same time someone who would do this clearly has limited sense of propriety. I wanted to post to Holla Back DC! to at least have my experience documented or recognized in some way. Unfortunately this is the second time I have had to post.

The second victim had a less common reaction—-she reported the incident to Metro Police:

I was so nauseous and disgusted after this whole incident. Its especially shocking considering the time of day and the amount of people on the train. I reported the incident to Metro Police. The man was African American, about 40 years old, wearing jeans and a baseball cap. We were in the last car of the orange line train departing from L’Enfant Plaza in the direction of Vienna at about 10:30 AM this morning.

I don’t know what good it does to tell you this story, but I know there is little that the Metro Police can do.

There are a variety of reasons why victims might be uncomfortable immediately reporting an incident like this to the police—-fear, shame, self-blame, the possibility that they won’t be taken seriously, the idea that incidents like this don’t constitute “real” threats, and the suspicion that the cops wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. Thanks to Holla Back, public records of this pattern of behavior that can help to empower future passengers who sit down next to a guy like this. Writes Holla Back: “If you feel comfortable reporting this perpetrator, contact Metro Transit Police at  202-962-2121. And/or, take a picture of the perpetrator on your cell phone and send it to us. HOLLA BACK DC!”

Photo via stevebott, Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0