Monday, August 02, 2010

CTA Responds

I was sexually harassed on the train one night this week. Not the first time it’s happened, and not the worst time it’s happened – but it happened and I hate it. I’m perhaps more sensitive to these things than some other women – but I KNOW when it’s harassment and not just the usual undesirable bumping/crowding that happens on mass transit.

In this case, a woman got off the train and the man that had been sitting next to her moved aside to let me into the window seat. That didn’t set off any alarm bells – maybe he was getting off the train soon, or just preferred the aisle seat. I sat. At first, he just had his shoulders and legs VERY far apart and was crowding me. Okay, so he’s a jerk, but that’s something I can deal with. However, he began rubbing his foot against mine. YUCK. Then his hand “accidentally” fell on my thigh. I shot him a look and he moved the hand. The foot and leg rubbing continued. His hand “fell” on my thigh again. I looked at him pointedly, and said “Do you mind?” He moved the hand, continued the rubbing, then the hand was on my thigh again. Fortunately, when I stood, he let me out of my seat (he could easily have kept me pinned in there) and I was able to get up and get out of that seat and away from his disgusting rubbing.

Another time, maybe two years ago, it was much worse. That time, I was in the aisle seat. A man got on the train and stood next to me – and began rubbing his crotch against my upper arm. Luckily, in that case I needed only to shoot him a death stare making it obvious I KNEW he was masturbating against me – and he left the train at the next stop.

I’ve seen the new CTA campaigns regarding “If it’s unwanted… it’s harassment” but honestly, I’ve felt uncomfortable reporting harassment. I fear other riders will think I’m overreacting and resent a delay to their commute, We all just want to get where we’re going. I fear further inciting my assaulter – what if he hurts me in an attempt to quiet me?

I talked to some friends. One noted that I should have said something specific, like “Get your hand off my leg” so other passengers might hear and know what was happening. (Rather than my vague “Do you mind” which could be as innocuous as crowding or burping or whatnot.) I looked online and found various reports of harassment, and suggestions like taking a picture with your cell phone.

I contacted the CTA this week – and my initial response was met with a stock answer that didn’t make me feel heard in the least. I then contacted James Higgins directly, getting his email off another victim’s post on a blog. Mr. Higgins responded quickly and thoughtfully:

Thank You for the response. We have a dedicated crew that views video taken on Buses and in CTA stations for the purpose of identifying persons such as you describe. We do have great success and this success starts with people like you. When you see something, say something. Walk up to the operator of the vehicle and request that the “Event Save” button be activated. The Operator presses a button and this stores video of what you think may have happened. Call us if you do this and we will look at the video. Here is my 24 Hr Cell phone number or (Office)

Well, that’s better. I feel heard. However, I feel they put the largest responsibility for change on the VICTIMS of harassment. In my own situations, assuming I can get away from my assaulter (as both times they had me pinned inside a seat on the train), I then have to travel the length of the train car, and announce my concerns loudly to the train operator via intercom, with the operator then responding loudly back so the entire car can hear. This, at a minimum, further humiliates me – and potentially puts me at further risk. Even using my cell phone to call the CTA – again, my assaulter and fellow passengers can hear, and I may be humiliated or put at further risk.

~Reproduced with permission from Lynette

To read more on her suggestion for CTA, check out her blog.