Sexual Harassment on Public Transportation

October 08, 2008

Recently police arrested a man at a Manhattan subway station on misdemeanor charges of attempted unlawful surveillance, attempted sexual abuse, and harassment. A month earlier he took a cell phone picture up the skirt of a woman at another subway station. The woman retaliated by taking his photo and filing a police report. The police officer who arrested the man said he recognized him from that report. Just as this woman did, people in New York City who witness crimes now can take pictures on their cell phone cameras and send them when they make their 911 calls.

Sexual harassment on public transportation is a problem in many big cities. Several countries like Japan and Mexico are handling it by creating women-only subway cars and buses. In early September, New York City launched a subway ad campaign to address the rampant sexual harassment problem on subways (peruse some of the stories on the HollaBack NYC website if you want examples). Right now, a Subway Safety Coalition task force, including Right Rides and HollaBack NYC, is working to increase the visibility of the ads, add a phone number to the ads that people can use to report the crime, and encourage better sexual harassment training for police officers and subway personnel. (For a horrifying example of the need for better training, read this news story.)

AAUW has long addressed sexual harassment in the workplace and schools through its Legal Advocacy Fund, Public Policy initiatives, and research reports. However, sexual harassment on public transportation is a new frontier with few effective laws. Acknowledging that there is a problem is an important step; I hope new legislation and better policies will follow in cities nationwide. I applaud New York City for finally taking this widespread problem seriously and for its innovative initiatives. I hope they are successful.

Have you experienced sexual harassment on public transportation? Do you have any suggestions for ending it?

Holly Kearl By:   |   October 08, 2008


  1. I live in NYC and ride the subway often, as I have no car. One day when it was especially crowded–we were crammed in body to body, and my arms were full of bags I felt something strange behind me. At first I thought someone had a bag and it was bumping up and down against my back side. I turned around and finally came to realize that the man directly behind me had been rubbing his penis in and out of my buttocks. I moved two inches away at the next stop when I had the room, but I never thought of taking a picture, or saying anything. This was not a homeless man. He was dressed in expensive dress slacks and a nice button down shirt. I was too horrified and frightened to do anything but try to get away from him. Who would have believed me anyway? I now plan to keep my camera phone handy. I have since watched men, who will sit too close to a woman, when there is plenty of room on the subway. The subway etiquette is to give each person as much personal space as possible, and when this is purposely violated, I feel it is harassment.

  2. Mara says:

    around 6PM i was in a bus going from NYC to NJ when a man coming from the back of the bus sat right next to me. he seemed agitated or nervous about something but i’ve turned my head in another direction and tried not to pay any attention. after 15 min of squirming he started leaning on me. when i finally looked at him i realized he had his penis in his hands and was masturbating. i jumped on my feet and started shouting to bus driver to stop the bus and to call the police. the bus driver stopped the bus and did not open bus doors as the harasser tried to get out. i wanted to call the police but in that moment the harasses started to cry and plead with me to let him go “because he is a sick man” (his own words). i was really upset and angry, but at the end i told the bus driver to open the door in order to kick this guy out. now i regret for not calling the police because this guy will most likely do the same thing today and tomorrow. however, i’m not going to make the same mistake again. and that’s a promise!

  3. Carrie in KS says:

    Mara, what a terrifying experience. I hope you are OK. Lately, I have started taking pictures and videos on my cell phone of any situation I consider to be odd in even the smallest way. I hope this experience is not repeated by any other travelers this holiday season, but just in case, remember to use the tools at hand to protect yourself and others.

  4. sexual harassment attorneys says:

    Shameless people were out there looking for their next victim. Typically, a woman. So everyone should be careful.

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