Are you relatively new to this bustling metropolis? Don't be shy about it, everyone was new to New York once upon a time, except, of course, those battle-hardened residents who've lived here their whole lives and Know It All. One of these lifers works among us at Gothamist—publisher Jake Dobkin grew up in Park Slope and still resides there. He is now fielding questions—ask him anything by sending an email here, but be advised that Dobkin is "not sure you guys will be able to handle my realness." We can keep you anonymous if you prefer; just let us know what neighborhood you live in.
This week's question is from a woman who wonders what to do in an unfortunate situation:
Dear Native New Yorker,
I've lived in New York for 6 years and have always heard about elusive masturbators on the subway from friends. I had been thankfully spared from such an incident until yesterday when, on my morning commute on the A train, the man sitting across from me began to furiously shake his hand in his pants. I was obviously disgusted, and thought about taking his picture to send to Gothamist, but didn't even want to look in his general direction, much less have a picture of him on my phone.
Is there an MTA protocol for this? Should I have taken a picture and sent it to authorities/Gothamist? Coincidentally, more women than men entered the subway car at each stop, each of them disgusted. One poor older woman unknowingly sat next to him and when she realized what was happening, sat stone-faced for two stops. Despite all this, no one took pictures or said anything to him probably because "hey, it's New York" and people just ignore things.
Jake decided to throw this question to Gothamist co-founder Jen Chung, who is not a Native New Yorker but has seen too much subway dong.
Seeing someone's penis while riding the subway is not a "Hey, it's New York" thing—it's a completely messed up and disgusting technique that sickos use to intimidate you.
The MTA and NYPD want you to report these incidents and, ideally, catch these perps. Otherwise, there's the risk of the bystander effect where no one does anything and the crimes keep happening. When speaking with us about a different subway incident, one NYPD Transit Bureau officer said the public should contact the police—whether it's flagging down an officer at the station, at a precinct or by calling 911. The officer told us that witnesses "can't rely on one person to make the report—if 50 people are calling 911, then we'll have better descriptions" of suspects and then police can construct what may have happened more easily.
Flashed dicks, subway grinding, masturbating—they are all sexual misconduct. If more people speak up and report these incidents, police officers will have to take them more seriously. A few years ago, I told a police officer about a man who was rubbing himself against my back on a packed 2 train (I wasn't sure that it was actually happening until I saw the faces of two other women near me) but he said, "Well, he didn't really touch you. We can't do anything about that."
It helps the authorities tremendously if there's supporting evidence—a photo, a video, another witness—so they can send out information to the media and, hopefully, arrest the suspect. So I'd say you should definitely take any photographs or video you can as long as you don't put yourself in harm's way. You can also try to enlist your fellow subway riders in the effort:
That means it'll probably be easier to take the photo/video on a crowded subway, while you might need to be more discreet on a less-populated one. Always keep your safety in mind. One of Native New Yorker Jake Dobkin's mottos is "Don't be a coward, but don't get yourself killed."
Last month, one woman sent us video of a guy who was masturbating (over his pants) while staring at her on an N train. He even followed her off the train until she stopped at the subway attendant's booth. It turns out that some Gothamist readers recognized him because they had OkCupid dates with him, and they called in tips to the police.
The victim told us that even though she feels violated and uncomfortable riding the subway now, "By shooting the video and [Gothamist] posting it...[the police] can't ignore it and brush it off as incidental. They can't say 'it wasn't as bad as you think, because they see how bad it was."
Another woman who filmed a man apparently masturbating on an A train—"In the tunnel between High Street and Fulton, he 'cleaned himself' and then got off at Fulton Street"—and gave the video to the police a few weeks ago said the cops were pretty responsive. An officer told her, "It's a really hot topic right now." She added, "When I was in Manhattan filing my report, ANOTHER call came in from another woman, different train, probably a different guy, also masturbating. So, I guess it's a hot topic because men can't stop masturbating on public transportation."
Keep in mind, if you do file a report with the police, they may try to give you the run-around because there's this annoying thing: If the actual incident occurred in one precinct, but you report it at another precinct, an officer may tell you it's not their problem. Do NOT let the cops try to sweep this under the carpet—you can file the incident on the MTA's website and detectives will contact you. And you can always send us the information—email us at email@example.com—and we'll do our best to expose these creeps.