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Local anti-sexual harassment resource Holla Back D.C. has declared March “Public Transit Awareness Month” in order to “focus on public sexual harassment on our public transportation in the DC metro area.” I’m inclined to support this occasion for the following reasons:

(a) About half of the groping stories I’ve heard (and I have heard a lot of groping stories) took place within D.C.’s public transportation system.

(b) The vast majority of the victims in these cases did not report their assaults to the police.

(c) Since many commuters rely on Metro to get to work, it’s really fucking hard to avoid this particular venue for public sexual assault. (Metro logs over 700,000 trips in its system every weekday).

(d) Metro police take public transit-based sexual assaults seriously—-when the assaults are reported to them. Since only a small number of Metro-based sex offenses actually reach Metro officials each year (2009’s count was 43 sexual assaults), police don’t see Metro-based assaults as a serious problem on the whole.

It is so ordered.

Throughout the month of February, Holla Back DC is inviting comments for ways D.C. can tackle the problem of sexual assault and harassment on public transportation. I like the suggestion of one commenter: Why not stage a public awareness campaign directly inside the venue of many assaults—-on Metro trains?

Last fall, New York City waged a similar campaign against subway sexual harassment. According to an MTA presser, the campaign included a series of subway banners (a colleague sent me a photo of one, above) as well as heavy distribution of bilingual brochures encouraging victims of subway sexual violence to report the crimes to the NYPD Sex Crimes Report Hotline. The full banner text reads:

Sexual Harassment is a Crime in the subway, too. A crowded train is no excuse for an improper touch. Don’t stand for it or feel ashamed, or be afraid to speak up. Report it to an MTA employee or police officer.

I think that a campaign like this is a really good start, because it addresses a few the reasons why some victims of public sexual assault don’t speak up: they’re taken completely off-guard by this sexual assault on their regular morning commute; they feel like no one would understand their reaction to such a thing; they doubt the authorities would care if they did report it. So, when are we going to see similar ads on Metro?

Photo by Andrew Beaujon