One of the things that the whole #MeToo movement has shown me, is that there are a lot more men out there who go way beyond ordinary boundaries with complete strangers than I would have ever imagined. For instance, when I first heard about the Louis C.K. story, I was just surprised that anyone thought that was something you could do (and get away with). Yesterday, NPR wrote a story about efforts to get the DC Metro to run ads against groping women on the subway. And I’ll admit my first thought was, does this really happen that often? But it turns out that it happens more often than I would have imagined.
Margaret Wroblewski’s daily commute on the Metro often comes with an unwanted consequence, and it’s not necessarily unexpected delays or crowded trains. It’s sexual harassment.
Like many students, the 22-year-old relies on the Metro rail system to get around the Washington, D.C., region every day. She’s studying photojournalism at George Washington University and commutes from her home in Maryland.
Wroblewski posted her latest encounter with sexual harassment on Snapchat last fall. As her friends weighed in, she quickly realized she wasn’t alone…
Public spaces, like the Metro, are rife with incidents. Two years ago, Metro commissioned a study that showed roughly 20 percent of respondents faced some type of sexual harassment on regional public transportation. National statistics show a similar pattern.
But the statistics don’t really get across how disturbing some of this behavior is. To get the full creep factor, you need to read some of the stories Wroblewski has collected for a project she calls “I Was On the Metro When.” She’s collected 14 so far and is crowd-sourcing more. Here’s one written by a 17-year-old high school student who says she was groped on a city bus:
Clad in my uniform, I rushed out of my last period class for the walk to my bus stop by the Medical Center metro station – the 46 Ride On. I had an English paper due the next day that I hadn’t started on and wanted to get back home as soon as possible to get started on it. I knew I had a better chance of catching an emptier bus before peak rush hour, and I was right. The 5-minute wait gave me a chance to get my headphones in so I could ride the bus, uninterrupted. There were no more than 5-10 people on the bus with me, so I was able to get my usual seat – right by the back exit.
If I’m by myself, I typically tend to mind my own business while I’m taking any sort of public transportation, and this time was no different. With my headphones in, I was able to hear no more than the sounds of the stops. However, this time, I heard a booming thump from the man who decided to sit next to me – a moustachioed man with a medium-to-large build, presumably coming from work with a briefcase in hand.
I wondered why he was sitting next to me in a bus full of empty seats where he had his pick of the lot. As I continued to listen to my music and avoid eye contact with the man next to me, I started to feel a sweaty, warm hand on my thigh. My mind went blank and I didn’t know what to do in that moment. I was so focused on avoiding eye contact with him, that he found himself the opportunity to do what he wanted to my body when I wasn’t looking. I continued looking straight ahead and avoided any eye contact with him possible.
That man should have been arrested but there are even worse stories, like this one:
I got in to a half-full front metro car on a Sunday afternoon. It was great. There was even a cop there for a while. The metro car was beginning to empty out. I felt fine about it at the time, but then I was the only person on the car. It didn’t matter to me at the time. A man got on the train and sat directly behind me. I thought it was a little odd since the entire train car was empty. I didn’t want to make him feel bad, and I didn’t want to move which is funny to me now. I remember staying there and thinking I was uneasy, but there were only a few stops left. Then, I felt something on me. Something wet. I just started looking around. You know that feeling sometimes when you are on a metro car where the windows leak? But it wasn’t raining. Then I turned around and saw the man adjusting his pants and I saw a strip of his stomach. I think I knew what happened, but I didn’t want to believe it. So, I said to him, ‘What is on me?’ He responded, ‘Oh, it’s nothing.’ I was looking at him over my shoulder when I realized what had happened.
I got up and said, “There’s something on me, what is it? There is something in my hair!’ He said, ‘Oh it’s baby lotion, it’s good for you.’ And I said, ‘I need to see the lotion right now.’ He started rummaging through his backpack. I knew it wasn’t lotion. I started yelling. ‘I have allergies, where is the lotion?’ So finally, I said, ‘Did you spit on me or something?’ I could smell it. He started curling up against the window and I started to feel very afraid.
Needless to say, it wasn’t lotion. She reported the incident to the station manager who told her there had been a rape on an empty DC Metro car. She also reported it to the transit police but it’s not clear the person was ever found. Here’s one more:
One day, I sat on the train coming home from work. I sat reading the paper, shockingly an article about the #metoo movement. I looked to my right and a man was staring at his lowered phone. And after a quick moment, I realized that through his phone, he was looking up my skirt. He was actively working to get an angle up the slit of my gray pencil skirt and around my crossed knees. I was embarrassed. I was mortified. When I got up to leave, he simply looked at me and grinned. He said: “I hope your day ends as good as mine just did.
An advocacy group convinced the DC Metro to run ads about harassment on trains and buses. One of the goals is to get more people to come forward when and report these incidents when they happen. Given the stories above, that seems like a good idea.