Joining you on your next rush hour subway commute may be some undercover police officers who are looking for subway perverts. And the NYPD is also making sure that more female police officers will be on the case. One told the NY Times that a female victim is typically "more free to tell me everything that she felt happen to her."
The Times went on a ride-along with police officers investigating sex crimes in the mass transit system:
The team of seven officers was searching for men who use the subway’s crowded confines to get too close to women. Some furtively touch female passengers, while others rub up against the women they have targeted.
At Union Square, Detective Marquis Cross saw a man he recognized from a previous sex-offense arrest standing suspiciously close to a female passenger. As the woman left the train, Detective Cross jogged after her to ask if she had felt anything unusual. She said that she had not, but that the man did seem too close.
The officers, all from the Transit Bureau, were working the Lexington Avenue line, one of the most overcrowded in an increasingly crowded system. The ever-tightening crush of passengers provides easy cover for men who prey on women, the police say.
Offenders will often step off a car and get back on just before the doors close so they have to squeeze next to other riders, Detective Cross said. “They’re looking for a particular crowd or person that they want to get behind,” he said.
As the NYPD tries to fight subway sexual assaults on the front lines, numerous stories suggest there's a lot of work to be done, from taking victims' accounts seriously to offering easier ways for them to file reports. Tiffany Jackson's report—and photo—of a masturbating man was only taken seriously whens she posted it to Instagram (an MTA worker basically ignored her right after the incident). And one woman who had footage of a man masturbating and staring on her during an N train ride went to the police precinct near her job in Manhattan to report the incident, only to be told she would need to go to a precinct in Queens. And then there's the slut-shaming.
Earlier this month, Elizabeth Yuko wrote about a horrifying 2014 incident where after she was groped by someone on the 7 train: "I was standing in the middle of the train car with one of my closest friends, discussing how, on Seinfeld, the 7 train always seems to be going the opposite direction of rush hour when, all of a sudden, I felt a hand travel up my skirt, and firmly and deliberately grab my vagina." Yuko was in shock over what happened and a few days later ended up going to a local precinct, where she says officers tried to blame her for being assaulted:
The questions from the police officer came one after another, and the question about what I had been wearing caught me especially off guard. I responded that I was wearing a knee-length dress and a cardigan, and, like most days, “was dressed like an old-timey secretary.” The police officer chuckled and said, "So you weren’t wearing anything promiscuous or provocative?” I informed him that it did not matter what I was wearing, and that I do not subscribe to the belief that what a woman is wearing in any way grants permission for anyone to touch her without her consent. I don’t think that part made it into the police report.
At one point, an administrative assistant, who was also in the room, informed me that men tend to like “bigger girls” like me who have “more meat on their bones,” and said that they target us over thinner women. She later clarified that she meant it as a compliment. While I may be on the well-nourished and voluptuous side, I did not see what that had to do with being a target for sex offenders.
The officer asked if this was the first time something like this has happened to me. I told him that unfortunately, this was the third time something like this had happened to me in the past year. When he asked why I didn’t report the previous two incidents, I did not have a good answer. I really didn’t know. But I said that it was important to me to report this incident, if for no other reason than to make me feel as though I had some sort of control over this situation — and to stop perpetuating the cycle of sexual assaults that are left unreported.
“Well, if this is happening to you so frequently, a lot of men must find you attractive,” the police officer informed me. “Yes. They’re called sex offenders,” I replied.
He asked if I noticed any patterns in what I was doing when I was targeted, adding that it could help me to determine what to avoid in the future. Was I standing in a certain area? Wearing a certain thing? Engaging with other commuters? Smiling too much? Didn’t my phone have a camera? Why didn’t I take his photo? I couldn’t help but feel the onus being placed squarely on me to prove that I wasn’t the responsible party.
He asked for a second time where I was on the subway car, and then informed me that I should really try to sit down while riding the subway, as that would make it harder for men to touch me inappropriately.
Apparently, asking about the sexual gratification of my hypothetical boyfriend was a crucial part of filling out my sexual assault report.
Refinery29 reached out to the NYPD for comment regarding Yuko's experience, but the site never heard back. She told us, "I would be more than happy to meet with anyone in the NYPD to discuss sexual assault reporting procedures from the perspective of someone who has actually gone through the process. As I said in my article, I do think the NYPD officers I dealt with meant well, but simply did not receive adequate training on how to properly deal with sex crimes. As a society, we are all so conditioned to think of public spaces as belonging to men, and as women, we're supposed to play by a certain established set of rules, for example, dressing a certain way, not smiling, and using any technology available to assist in the investigation. The onus is still very much on us, and until a larger discussion of sexual assault and other sex crimes takes place, it will be difficult to achieve the necessary shift in attitudes."
One hopes NYPD's efforts to better educate its officers will filter down to all officers. And I speak from experience: After a man rubbed himself against me on a crowded 2 train (the horrified looks on two female subway riders' faces confirmed that I wasn't imagining things), I found a police officer outside the subway station and told him what happened. He told me, "Well, he didn't really touch you. We can't do anything about that."
If you see or experience sexual misconduct in the subway (this includes seeing a masturbator, being groped, being grinded on, etc.), you can report it to the MTA and police on this website. There's also a place for you to upload photos and/or video.