One sunny summer day when I was 14, I was riding the E train, on my way to my first job as a camp counselor. I was on the right side in a two seat section. I felt nudging on my left side and was alarmed when I looked down to see the man next to me was masturbating under his briefcase. There were other people on the train but I didn't know if I should scream, tell someone, or move my seat. I was frozen. It literally felt like we were the only two on the train even though it was rush hour and there were plenty of people I could have asked for help. I didn't want to bring too much attention to us because I thought he would try to grab and hurt me. The plan was to get off the train before my stop to switch cars so he wouldn't be able to follow me to my destination. A similar situation happened about a year later but this time it was on the bus and the man was wearing basketball shorts and almost a foot away from me. After this second time, I began to wonder, "Why does this always happen to me?"
I've only shared this experience with about 10 people. Some of them were females who were shocked to hear my story and made it seem so far-fetched. This hindered me from wanting to tell others since I thought my situation was isolated. Recently, I saw an article on The Guardian and Grist of women sharing their similar experiences and I was relieved/upset that I wasn't alone.
This happened almost 10 years ago but still affects me today. Since then I have never sat in one of those two seat sections unless I was sitting with someone I know. On the train when I feel a man is looking at me for too long, I plan an escape route in my mind. Monday I was on the train and every time I looked up this guy was staring at me, so I made a plan that if he didn't get off the train at least five stops before mine then I was going to get off and go to another car so he can't look at me, in fear that he was planning something.
Then Tuesday I was on the train wearing a knee length skirt and this man was sitting next to me in this L shaped corner of the train so technically we were kind of face to face. He kept looking at me and I thought he was looking at my legs so I draped my cardigan over my knees so none of my skin was showing. I felt extremely uncomfortable and then proceeded to move my seats three stops later.
In these situations I always feel bad for moving because I don't want the guy to get offended or seem like I am exaggerating (which makes no sense because if I am feeling uncomfortable I shouldn't have to subject myself to being in that situation any longer).
This situation is difficult to fix because it isn't happening near a school playground where you can have the man reported to stay at least 20 feet away. Nor is it happening in a local park where you can ban the perpetrator. It is happening on PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION which is open to everyone, the whole public including sick deranged people. So how can we fix this? I don't believe the answer "We can't."- (yes I am a full blown optimist). The United Kingdom is taking steps to combat it with Project Guardian and Project Empower that both deal specifically with sexual harassment on public transportation.
But what are we doing here in America? I don't know! I specifically looked for organizations in New York working on this issue but couldn't find any. I saw, Hollaback, an international movement dedicated to ending street harassment using mobile technology but not specific for public transportation. If you know any organizations that are working on this, please comment below.
So if you have experienced this, know that you aren't alone. If you see this happening to someone, intervene to prevent it. If you have an entrepreneurial heart, create an organization in your city to deal with these issues...or maybe an online forum that connects women from around United States that have encountered this so they know they aren't alone. Share this article with your friends because you never know their story, this can be a great conversation starter during girls night in!
Now It's Your Turn: Did you know that this was happening to women? Regardless of your gender, how would you handle this situation?