Last Friday, Public Advocate Letitia James stood with Hollaback!, an international movement to end street harassment, the Center for Anti-Violence Education and other anti-sexual violence advocates to push for improvements from the NYPD and MTA to increase surveillance, education and the safety of riders.
The group pushed for more training on how to handle sexual lewdness and related violations and assaults on public transit, as well as the improvement of reporting systems, the creation of a bystander education program, increased penalties for offenders and new cameras in subway cars.
“It is unacceptable that the largest urban transportation system in the world is not doing everything possible to inform and protect transit riders,” James said. “Current data cites that arrests are made in only two-thirds of reported cases. I believe sexual lewdness, harassment and assaults are seriously under-reported, and unfortunately, that is the case because riders aren’t confident that these complaints will be investigated.”
A study showed that women reported sexual violations over 3,000 times from 2008 to 2013, with the 4/5/6 trains having the most reported incidents. The majority of the reports happened during the morning rush hour.
Hollaback! says that issues with underreporting of incidents can be solved if bystanders played a more active role in stopping assault and harassment that is happening in front of them.
“Hollaback! believes everybody has the right to feel safe on public transit and on the streets of New York City,” Hollaback! Deputy Director Debjani Roy said. “We envision a city full of active bystanders who stand together and say 'no' to sexual harassment and assault when they see it happening.”
Meanwhile, Assemblyman Joseph Lentol will reintroduce a bill in the upcoming legislative session that will increase the severity of the crime of forcibly touching others in situations they are unable to avoid, which often happens in crowded buses and subways.
If the legislation passes, the crime of “subway grinding” will change from a class B misdemeanor to a class A misdemeanor, making the new maximum penalties a year in jail and one year of probation.
“Increasing the punishment for this lewd behavior will certainly serve to protect individuals on subways and deter individuals who may consider this heinous act,” Lentol said. “There is no reason someone should be subjected to this type of behavior, especially when it is unavoidable in the tight quarters of a crowded subway car.”