Anti-harassment ad campaign on Metro. Photos by the author.
After advocates testified a year ago about sexual harassment on Metrorail and Metrobus, blogs like GGW covered the issue, and members of the public submitted many stories. After some initial resistance when we brought up the topic, WMATA formed a task force last March to address sexual harassment on its system.
Despite the glacial speed government agencies sometimes work, WMATA has successfully taken a number of steps to fight the problem, and is poised to follow with a few more.
Tracking and trends: In March 2013, WMATA began tracking all forms of sexual harassment and they now look for trends. Previously they only tracked harassment that was considered, by law, to be criminal.
So far, the biggest trend they see is that most harassment happens on the Metro cars, compared to the buses or stations. Metro train ridership is double that of bus ridership.
Online forms: In March 2012, WMATA launched a new online form and e-mail address (firstname.lastname@example.org) to make it easier for individuals to report incidents. Transit police respond to everyone who submits a report and if the incident is illegal, they see if the person wants to file a police report.
Staff awareness: In the spring, there was an internal awareness campaign among WMATA staff carried out through company-wide emails and brochures.
Posters: Over the summer they launched a transit-wide public service poster campaign in Metro stations, on buses, and on train cars. I’ve personally seen them many places and numerous friends, colleagues, and acquaintances have let me know they’ve seen them and are happy they exist.
New law: When WMATA informed us that indecent exposure was not a probable cause misdemeanor in the District of Columbia, we spoke with Councilmember Muriel Bowser’s office, and she introduced legislation in April 2012 to make it a probable cause misdemeanor.
In February 2013, the law quietly passed as part of the omnibus crime bill and will make it easier to report and prosecute indecent exposure incidents. (This law was already in place in Maryland and is not in place in Virginia.)
As Collective Action for Safe Spaces says, “Although we do NOT support more people getting arrested, we do want Metro to be safe for all, and not have to watch individuals doing obscene things while staring at you.”
Reports: Between March and December of 2012, there were 126 reports of harassment. Because this was the first year verbal harassment was tracked, it’s impossible to say if this is higher or lower than in years past.
Of the 126 reports, 99 used the online form. Of those, 9 reports were not sexual, 38 were non-criminal harassment, and 52 were criminal harassment. Out of the 52 incidents, only 22 people said they wanted to file a police report once WMATA followed up with them. Only one arrest was made out of the 22 reports.
WMATA suggests that people make reports directly to Metro Transit Police at (202) 962-2121 or via the online form. Unless you’re in danger and need immediate help, reporting it to a station manager may delay the process because they may not be quick to respond and they would still have to report it to MTP.
More steps are coming
It’s great that WMATA is committed to continuing to address sexual harassment on their system this year. There are several more plans in place for doing more to address sexual harassment on the transit system:
Improved online form: Because most people who made reports did not provide enough information (including about the perpetrator) to press charges or to look for repeat offenders, within two weeks, WMATA will launch an improved online form that will have more drop down options which they hope can help lead to better reporting. (Note: If you plan to make a report, try to provide as many details as you can about the perpetrator/s.
Posters: There will be a second phase of the PSA campaign this summer or fall, tailored specifically for DC (the current campaign was adapted from a Boston campaign).
Training: Every single WMATA employee will receive training this year about how to not be a harasser and what to do when people report harassers to them.
Law: WMATA wants to work with Virginia legislators to pass legislation to make it easier to prosecute indecent exposure so there is consistency across the jurisdictions Metro serves.
Spread the word: In partnership with CASS and my organization Stop Street Harassment, WMATA plans to undertake more efforts to inform riders how to report harassers and why this is important. For example, during Sexual Assault Awareness Month and International Anti-Street Harassment Week (April 7-13), WMATA will likely partner with our groups to hand out fliers at busy Metro and bus stations.
You can help spread the word too and encourage people you know to say something when they see harassment happening and do something by reporting it to WMATA.