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End sexual harassment on Metro

Unwanted sexual comments, indecent exposure, groping, and public masturbation: sexual harassment happens often on transit in DC. Local grassroots activist group Collective Action for Safe Spaces (CASS)/Holla Back DC! has been tracking and speaking out on this issue for 3 years.

Pascale Leone testifies to the DC Council about harassment.

Of the hundreds of stories of public sexual harassment submitted to their blog, 30% take place on the transit system or at Metro platforms or bus stops.

After unsuccessfully trying to meet with WMATA and not receiving responses to inquiries about statistics of sexual harassment, CASS board members, including myself, decided to organize a group of people to testify at yesterday's WMATA oversight hearing at the DC Council, chaired by Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser.

Six of us testified and we were the only members of the public who testified about anything relating to WMATA, so we had their attention and the attention of the media. After laying out the facts, sharing stories of harassment, and informing them about what transit systems in Boston, New York City and Chicago are doing to address sexual harassment that WMATA is not, we gave our recommendations.

  1. Better tracking and reporting of incidents
  2. A public service awareness campaign so people know what their rights are and how to report incidents
  3. Better training of Metro employees so they don't harass passengers and so they respond to reports of harassment more appropriately.

Councilmember Bowser was very receptive to these suggestions, especially the PSA campaign. WMATA CEO Richard Sarles said he would talk with his counterparts in the three cities that have PSA campaigns, to get advice on how to bring one to DC. Their responses were very encouraging, but of course we won't call it a success until we actually have a campaign.

Anti-harassment PSA in Chicago.

And there is still work to do around WMATA's responses to and treatment of harassment.

While WMATA keeps painting harassment as flirting in their statements to the press, we're not talking about flirting, and the testimonies illustrated what's really going on. Here are two examples.

Ami Lynch testified about a Metro bus driver who harassed her. After small talk about how tall she was, he launched into inappropriate territory by saying, "Hey baby, it doesn't matter that I'm not tall, because when we're lying down it's all the same anyway," and as he laughed he gestured from his crotch to her crotch. She said she was stunned, stepped off the bus, crossed the street, and began to cry. After she reported it, the Customer Relations Manager told her how the bus driver would never have said that and didn't have time to talk to customers on his route. The case was closed.

She said she no longer takes that bus and it has cost her nearly $1,000 in cab fares to commute to her weekly appointment for which she previously used the 10B bus.

Pascale Leone shared how the following happened to her when she left a Metro station: "In a flash, the young male in the white T-shirt came onto me saying derogatory things about my body and proceeded to—in what felt like the longest seconds of my life—fondle my chest and buttocks unremittingly and then walked away as if nothing had happened. My shock wore off and anger quickly set in. I was pissed. I turned around with clenched fists and caught my assailants vacant eyes as he muttered, "You f---ing b-tch" and calmly turned around and continued to walk away."

When she reported him to a nearby Metro employee, he said, "Oh him. He just grabbed that girl's butt" pointing at a woman going up the escalators. Then he laughed. She said the next day she read in the DCist and the Examiner that minutes before her assault, he had punched a woman in the back of her head and after he groped her, he grabbed a woman on K Street and tried to rape her until a group of passerby's heard her scream and held the suspect until the police arrived..

Metro says they are doing a good job addressing sexual crimes since there were only 84 reported "sexual offenses" last year. We disagree. We know that sexual crimes are vastly under-reported to begin with and then, when people do try to report it, how many of them are like Ami and Pascale? Instead of having their incident handled and recorded, they're met with laughter or disbelief and their incident is left off the record.

Additionally, after our testimonies, we were told by someone in from the transit police office, that unless verbal harassment is directly threatening, it is not recorded at all and is a matter of free speech. So none of the verbal sexual harassment that we know is so prevalent is tracked.

It's funny how unwanted sexual comments constitute sexual harassment in the workplace and schools, but, according to the police officer, they are free speech on the Metro system.

Clearly, our work is just beginning. We plan to bring a larger group to testify at the WMATA budget hearing in April and we likely will launch a petition or advocacy campaign in March, so stay tuned.

Holly Kearl is the founder of Stop Street Harassment and author of Stop Street Harassment: Making Public Places Safe and Welcoming for Women (Praeger, 2010). 


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I don't disagree that more should be done, but realistically how much do you expect this would cost?

Metro has done such a great job of managing finances, indexing fares to inflation, and generally keeping the system in a state of repair that I fear that more responsibilities will only make our metro system worse, not better.

by Jim on Feb 23, 2012 3:02 pm • linkreport

@Jim, I don't think you're taking into account how this issue may affect ridership. I know a number of women who don't take the bus or Metro because they don't feel safe due to the combination of harassment and assault and the fact that Metro Police and Metro customer service don't take it seriously.

But regardless of that, this is a human rights issue and needs to be addressed. Writing it off as costing too much isn't fair to the 50% or more of Metro's riders who are being adversely affected by this. It's really unfair to dismiss it out of hand because of cost; there are LOTS of ways Metro is wasting money that could be changed to pay for this, or things that are lower priority, in my opinion.

by Joe on Feb 23, 2012 3:10 pm • linkreport

Remember when Sarles took over and brought Dan Stessel in as his communications guy and we were all excited because it seemed to be a more responsive Metro organization?

Looks like that didn't pan out....

by Tim Krepp on Feb 23, 2012 3:10 pm • linkreport

@Joe Thanks for the comment. I'm not dismissing it out of hand, but rather, suggesting maybe if we focus on reducing waste, fraud and abuse (not to mention ending the union stranglehold) we will have more resources to focus on important issues like these.

And I don't think it's unfair to factor in cost at all. Would I rather pay more to ride a metro system that has done some nice things to mitigate incidents of sexual harassment and is over budget and up to its eyeballs in liabilities, or would I rather pay to ride a metro system that got its fiscal house in order first, better enabling it to competently address the issue of sexual harassment?

I'd choose the latter. And of course there are more alternatives than just those two. I have no doubt that many women avoid the bus/train because of sexual harassment. This is bad. Many people avoid the metro because of its high costs, which are partly a result of historic mismanagement. Some women probably avoid it for both those reasons.

The best solution is to focus on the most cost efficient ways to improve metro, and get spending and fares ideally situated.

Just spending more on a nice idea like this doesn't necessarily make metro more ride able, especially if it requires new outlays on top of already pretty complicated financial situation.

We can spend all of the treasure in the mid-Atlantic to root out sexual harassment on metro. Put a cop on every bus, station, and platform. But that's unrealistic. At somepoint the trade offs will be too great. So asking what the costs are is not unfair, it's sensible. What's unfair is to demand change no matter the cost.

In short, we can end this behavior on metro, but it will have costs. What good do we do the women (and taxpayers) if the solution is a bad one, in that it makes riding metro more costly, and ridership declines?

by Jim on Feb 23, 2012 3:21 pm • linkreport

@Jim, keeping Metro free of sexual assault (which it absolutely, positively is NOT currently) should be an extremely high priority. You create a false dichotomy.

by Cbishop on Feb 23, 2012 3:28 pm • linkreport

@Jim, it's a good idea to always get a cost estimate on any new initiative. We expect Metro to be good stewards of our money, after all.

But we can expect the Metro GM and Director of Communications to talk intelligently about this topic. That doesn't cost anything. We can expect them to communicate with these women, to return their calls, and to have a meeting.

If cost is an issue, Metro should explain why and explain what low cost measures they ARE taking.

Here's one low hanging fruit that costs nothing: next time DON'T say "It really isn't a big issue" and use WMATA's abjectly broken complaint system as your explanation for your statement. That would cost zero dollars and would demonstrate that as Director of Communications you have some idea how to communicate with the public.

by Tim Krepp on Feb 23, 2012 3:31 pm • linkreport


How much would this cost? It shouldn't cost anything for people at the agency to upgrade their customer service to the bare minimum expectations. When someone reports harassment to a station manager or customer service, those Metro employees should assist the person in contacting the police.

I mean, a Metro employee harassed someone, and the customer service agent just dismisses it? That's ridiculous and should never happen.

by MLD on Feb 23, 2012 3:36 pm • linkreport

@Cbishop Metro will never be truly free of sexual assault, just as the district, VA, and MD are not free of it. It can only be mitigated. I am sorry you feel it is a false dichotomy, I do acknowledge there are other possibilities. However, not knowing the scope or cost of what the proponents want makes it more difficult to forecast the tradeoffs.

@Tim That does cost nothing and you are right.

by Jim on Feb 23, 2012 3:36 pm • linkreport

@MLD -- With unions, you'd be surprised how much upgrading the horrible customer service WMATA has to reasonable expectations.

Do you assume that the unions are going to allow them to be paid the same amount for doing better work? Or allowing their members who suck to be fired?

by Jim on Feb 23, 2012 3:39 pm • linkreport

I meant to say "you'd be surprised how much that might cost."

by Jim on Feb 23, 2012 3:41 pm • linkreport

@Jim, I don't mean to pile onto you, but an attitude expressed in your second comment strikes me as being at the heart of why Metro seems not to take sexual harassment seriously.

Making Metro just as safe for me as it is for you isn't a "nice thing to do." Sexual harassment is a public safety issue. If Metro believed it to be such, there would be placards all over the trains about it, just like there are placards all over about getting your iPhone stolen if you sit near the doors. I can imagine no other instance in D.C. where public safety measures would be put aside as too costly.

by amysee on Feb 23, 2012 3:50 pm • linkreport

Amy, I do not have thin skin and don't think you're piling on to me. I appreciate your comment.

I think metro needs to improve its safety across the board, including cutting down on sexual harassment. I see why you might think that in my second comment, but I don't think metro thinks that way. At all. If I thought metro was honestly trying to improve the system and reducing costs, I wouldn't have commented. They are not doing this.

To your comment about placards, I'm all for them. Creating them will have costs. Putting them in cars will take labor hours, and there are potential lost revenues if it means supplanting advertising that would have brought metro money. If it's a PSA swap, in that they take down iPod thievery PSAs, that obviously reduces costs and would be the best thing.

Better yet would be to rid the metro of the PSAs telling riders how much metro (read: riders and taxpayers) are paying to improve the system.

And I'm not saying nothing should be done, I just think the focus should be on effectiveness -- both in cost and outcome.

by Jim on Feb 23, 2012 3:56 pm • linkreport

It's funny how unwanted sexual comments constitute sexual harassment in the workplace and schools, but, according to the police officer, they are free speech on the Metro system.

Schools and workplaces are not public, unlike the public transportation system. Is there evidence illegal sexual harassment is worse on the Metro than it is in other public places? If so, it seems like a public safety question best solved by the police.

I am all for Metro using its existing resources to combat the issue. There are some steps WMATA can take that will improve the situation without costing money. But, as with all public policy, expenditure of WMATA's funds should be structured within a cost-benefit framework.

If you want a PSA campaign, raise money for it yourself. Otherwise, that is advertising money desperately needed elsewhere.

by WRD on Feb 23, 2012 3:58 pm • linkreport

I am one of the folks who testified, as a bystander who has witnessed many of these incidents and also on behalf of my sister who has been a victim of groping. She has not been the only one who has told me about incidents such as these, in fact many women have, and it is clear that these incidents are vastly under-reported.

I understand the discussion about cost, and while we need to get an accurate estimate of how much public awareness campaigns cost, such as the ones Holly mentions, I believe it could be just in the tens of thousands. This is nothing compared to what Metro's overall budget is. Council Member Bowser also said that some PSAs could be done at very low cost.

Both CM Bowser and Sarles noted that this testimony was deeply disturbing. Bowser pledged to do something about it. But Metro really needs to say something like: "We're deeply sorry. We will take all of your suggestions into serious consideration and we will do what we can to correct this." We have not exactly heard that from them yet.

They also need to apologize for Dan Stessel's greatly misinformed comments from the Channel 9 piece which Holly linked to, which stated that this was not a big issue and that confused harassment with flirting.

These comments prove that Metro does not understand this issue and that the solutions that Holly mentioned above must be done with community involvement in order to be effective.

by Ben Merrion on Feb 23, 2012 4:16 pm • linkreport

Sisters gotta get together to combat this. Yeah we should work through the beuracracy to institutionalize changed policy, but in the meantime women gotta organize to protect one another and collect the courqage to kick ass if its called for. No man should ever walk away from sexually assaulting a woman without getting his balls kicked in. You know, its freedom of speech.

by Tina on Feb 23, 2012 4:24 pm • linkreport

I am very much in favor of a public service awareness campaign on this issue. Will it prevent or even reduce instances of sexual harassment on WMATA? No. But it can empower victims, letting them know that this behavior is not acceptable, and that they should and will be taken seriously if they report it. It may also encourage fellow riders to step in if they see harassment occurring.

Almost every woman I know, including myself, has been a victim of sexual harassment in this city. The vast majority do not report it or stand up for themselves, for obvious reasons. Not only will the complaint not be taken seriously, there's also a good chance we'll be accused of not being able to take a compliment - an attitude being perpetuated by the sound bites from WMATA and other media coverage on this issue, especially the news article linked to above.

by Rebecca on Feb 23, 2012 4:33 pm • linkreport

Isn't sexual harassment restricted to the workplace?

by charlie on Feb 23, 2012 4:40 pm • linkreport

I think a PSA campaign can reduce incidence b/c it tells perpetrators that the act is not socially acceptable. Especially if the information is given explicitly as in the example PSA. I agree it will empower victims and embolden by standers to help defend victims too.

Does DC/MD/VA have a "good Samaritan" law? One in which bystanders are required to help persons in need? (Remember that story from a few years ago about the homeless man who lay dieing on the sidewalk while dozens of people walked past w/o calling 911?)

by Tina on Feb 23, 2012 4:44 pm • linkreport

Maybe next Dan Stessel will tell these women that they should be flattered, these guys just want to compliment them..

by Phil on Feb 23, 2012 4:44 pm • linkreport

@charlie -sexual assault is a crime anywhere. If someone touches you in a sexual way without permission, thats sexual assault.

by Tina on Feb 23, 2012 4:46 pm • linkreport

@charlie -the bus driver who did the harrassing was in his workplace, ergo, it was workplace sexual harrassment.

by Tina on Feb 23, 2012 4:47 pm • linkreport

"Isn't sexual harassment restricted to the workplace?"

How does this excuse the Metro employees who are harassing people?

by Phil on Feb 23, 2012 4:47 pm • linkreport

I'm sure it's the man in me but come on, this lady spent $1000 in cab fare because a bus driver propositioned her? Really now? Sounds a bit extreme.

But I can't imagine that Metro can't do some sort of public service campaign to bring awareness to the issue in the same way they have for security and other issues.

I also think that comparing workplace harassment and "public spaces" harrassment is a bit of a stretch. They really aren't the same and the protections offered are understandably at different levels.

WOW@The idea of a dude literally fondling a woman's breast/cheeks and simply walking away. WOW WOW WOW! Hogtying him to the tracks while completely bareskinned seems appropriate.

by HogWash on Feb 23, 2012 5:16 pm • linkreport

Thanks for all your hard work on this issue, Holly, and credit to everyone brave and dedicated enough to offer their testimony. Sadly, the indifference of many (most?) Metro staff to complaints about harassment and unwillingness to help in such circumstances appears to parallel their indifference in numerous other situations where a professional attitude would be valuable.

And is anyone else floored that the Post has yet to report on Stessel's dismissive attitude and comments? Hard to believe they would let a public official in DC take this kind of offensively cavalier position without shining some light on it.

by Arl Fan on Feb 23, 2012 5:30 pm • linkreport

I think the biggest issue is the lack of keeping statistics on "nonthreatening" verbal harassment. If you keep track of that statistic you aren’t keeping track of all “nonthreatening” verbal harassment. You are keeping track of actions bad enough that women (and maybe some men) take time out of their day to tell WMATA that they were made to feel uncomfortable. This isn't so much about what is legal and illegal. It is about customer service and ensuring your riders feel comfortable.

It also speaks to why employees at WMATA might mistakenly believe harassing women is okay. How can it be problematic if they aren't required to report it? How can it be problematic if it is dismissed as flirting by WMATA spokesmen? It is problematic, and it does need to be stopped.

Keeping track of additional statistics won’t cost that much and is an easy first step to take. And those statistics can help. They will give advocates a number to use, put WMATA workers on notice that sexual harassing riders is verboten and allow WMATA to provide better service to a large portion of its riders.

by Kinney on Feb 23, 2012 5:32 pm • linkreport

There may be some things that can be done to help out without dramatically higher costs for Metro.

One easy measure would be to immediately and permanently revoke any sort of transit subsidy being received by anyone who is found to be sexually harassing another passenger. I suspect that many of the perpetrators are high school students, and many of those have transit subsidies for getting to and from school. As a general policy, Metro should have a zero tolerance policy for bad behavior by students who are receiving transit subsidies, and sexual harassment in particular should result in a permanent revocation of transit assistance.

It also should not be difficult for Metro police to catch and prosecute repeat offenders. If someone is reporting that a regular rider of a particular bus route is routinely harassing fellow passengers, it should be straightforward to have an undercover officer ride, catch him in the act, and press charges.

It would also help to have a clarification regarding policy for intoxicated passengers; particularly those who do not pay fare. They are at much higher risk for bad behavior, but they put bus drivers in an impossible position: either they let the intoxicated person on and risk violence between the passengers, or confront the intoxicated person directly and risk violence against themselves. The best policy may be for bus drivers to send out an alert and stay put until police officers can arrive to remove the intoxicated person.

On a related subject, response times to bus emergencies need to be improved, dramatically. I have only been on a bus with an emergency situation once, and Metro Police never arrived after the bus driver waited for twenty minutes. That's ridiculous. Bus drivers should be able to get immediate assistance from city police if Metro Police are not available. Response times should be less than two or three minutes at most. Faster responses to emergencies will help get rid of a lot of the worst offenders, who are currently taking advantage of Metro's asleep-at-the-wheel approach to policing public transportation.

by Born in L.A. on Feb 23, 2012 6:05 pm • linkreport

Crime, any kind of crime, should be treated as a very big deal by WMATA. Sure, people in cities might take crime for granted and figure it's just part of city living. And, most subway systems are wholly within the city limits, so maybe that's ok. But, Metro is part subway, part commuter rail, and there will be a huge drop in ridership if people in the burbs don't perceive Metro as safe. It doesn't matter whether the crimes are happening in city stations or suburban ones. People will hear "Metro" and "crime" or "Metro" and "scary sexual harassment" and simply stop riding the system, particularly at off-peak times when most suburbanites have other choices.

It's worth noting that perceived (not actual) very high crime rates in NYC's subway system was one of the things that decimated ridership in the 70s. It wasn't until the "broken windows" policy of cracking down on all subway crime, no matter how small (like graffiti or turnstile jumping), that ridership went up. Personally, I miss the days when eating french fries on Metro could get you arrested.

I think part of the problem on reporting against a WMATA employee is that you're just reporting it to another WMATA employee who has every incentive to "get the back" of their fellow employee. There should be a hotline for reporting crime/fraud/abuse by WMATA employees.

by Falls Church on Feb 23, 2012 7:02 pm • linkreport

"And is anyone else floored that the Post has yet to report on Stessel's dismissive attitude and comments? Hard to believe they would let a public official in DC take this kind of offensively cavalier position without shining some light on it."

For some reason WMATA seems to get a free pass from the Post. Maybe Sarles has compromising pictures of the Metro editor or something.

by Phil on Feb 23, 2012 7:20 pm • linkreport

Yeah, Hogwash, that's the man in you coming out. You've never been followed down the street while on your way home by some high/drunk/crazy man yelling sexual innuendos at you and spent the last two blocks deciding what the hell you were supposed to do about this (this was at around 8 PM on a weekday; FWIW, I called a neighbor to "let me in the building" so that he wouldn't know that was my home, and we called the police when he continued to stand outside and yell at the building after I went in). You've never closely inspected the cars of a nearly-empty train, trying to decide which one is going to pose the least risk to you (you're stuck until at least the next station, if you make the wrong choice...and boy have I made the wrong choice before...and if you bolt to the next car at the next station, you might get followed). You've never had a man stop on a street corner, in broad daylight, just to obviously stare at you while you walk by and then mutter obscenities at you when you pass. You've never been the one to shelter a woman who is being aggressively harassed at a bar from her harasser, just to get her back from the bathroom to her friends safely, obviously. These and many other humiliating situations happen to me and almost all of my friends on at least a weekly basis, and I don't even have it that bad...many women are outright sexually assaulted through groping, public masturbation, and other vulgarities, daily, in the DC area, including on Metro. The LEAST we can expect is that when we report that these situations are occurring in the Metro system, our complaints will be dealt with promptly and effectively. The LEAST we can expect is that minimal measures, like the awareness campaigns about stolen electronics, are taken to curb this harassment. It's not "innocent flirting." It's not "socially inept pick-up attempts." It's harassment, meant more to demean the receiver than achieve any pick-up goal of the perpetrator.

You know what happens when you "talk back" to these fools? They either threaten you or laugh in your face, or both. Trust me, I've been polite ("I'm just going to my stop"), I've been agressive ("get the "f" out of my face before I kick you in the balls"). Nothing is effective unless there's a CULTURE that says this behavior is unacceptable. Men, women, Metro employees, police, and others have sat by and watched these altercations. Until we create a culture where this behavior is unacceptable, it will continue. But we won't create that culture if agencies like Metro "blame the victim," minimize our experiences, let their EMPLOYEES get away with the harassment, and do NOTHING to promote a culture where women aren't perceived as public property, easy targets, and, most of all, either "too sensitive" or the ones to blame.

In case you were wondering, I'm a young-ish (over 30, but look a little younger), not-terribly-attractive woman, who dresses pretty modestly. Not that it matters, but if it happens to me, it happens to everyone, and I've got a website's worth of stories to prove it (, plus more that I've heard and witnessed that have never been published.

by Ms. D on Feb 23, 2012 9:15 pm • linkreport

@Phil, not just the Post. How about all the TV News? It's a little late for the February sweeps, but this could be a great story for one of the local stations for the May ratings. Anybody have any local connections?

by Steve K on Feb 23, 2012 9:18 pm • linkreport

Also, FWIW, the first time I can recall being sexually harassed in public I was *8* and walking home from school with my brother. The most disturbing time was when I was *12* and at a local church carnival with some friends, when our parents had decided that we were finally old enough to be set free on our own for an hour or so. A game operator got up in my face while walking down the midway and asked me if there was room for two in my shirt, loud enough for the hundreds of other adults and families around me to hear, and blocked my path when I tried to go around him. Not even JOKING about that, and no one said ONE WORD about that behavior. I was also followed and incessantly whistled at by a man in his 40's while walking down the street at 13 (thankfully, a police officer noticed this and intervened). I'm sure I was looking DAMN SEXY those times.

This is the culture we live in. If you don't think that's a problem, castrate yourself, now, and if you have any daughters, find them a better home where someone will respect them.

by Ms. D on Feb 23, 2012 9:29 pm • linkreport

For "hundreds" to hear? He must have used a bullhorn. I have no doubt your experiences are true, but really -- hundreds?

by Bill on Feb 23, 2012 9:47 pm • linkreport

Yes, Bill, was a crowded midway at a popular festival, and he yelled out from the game before walking up and getting in my face (he was, after all, a game caller who had the voice to yell out to people passing by to play his game). There were people standing in lines at nearby rides and games and other passersby who turned and looked, and no one did anything. It's doubly humiliating to realize that so many people heard and saw and no one did anything.

by Ms. D on Feb 23, 2012 10:28 pm • linkreport

A PSA is a great idea. The cost, if that's an issue, can be subsidized. There may be interest among some corporate sponsors to help pay for such a worthwhile campaign. Metro can ask DC's large artistic and graphics arts community for design suggestions. It can solicit ideas for themes, messages and concepts from the community. The entire effort can and should be opened sourced to make sure the best thinking is applied.

This is an important issue. Harassment is real and I've seen enough of it on the street to convince me it is epidemic. It is a health, public safety and quality of life issue.

Harassment is enabled by so many things. Its many apologists see it as a harmless and even flattering behavior, but it is enabled, as well, by people who don't realize it is a problem. It is enabled by the absence of community backlash. Curbing this behavior will require getting the message out to the entire community.

Metro is in the best possible position to do a great public service. It reaches thousands of people and its PSA campaign may have real impact throughout the area.

by kob on Feb 23, 2012 10:59 pm • linkreport

Is there any evidence PSAs are effective?

Is there any evidence sexual harassment on Metro is worse than it is in any public area?

I don't know the answer to either question.

Let's imagine a hypothetical. One person is groped by another. In one case, it occurs on a sidewalk and in the other it occurs on a Metro platform. Is Metro more responsible for this behavior than the government that owns the sidewalk?

Does DC/MD/VA have a "good Samaritan" law? One in which bystanders are required to help persons in need?

Good Samaritan laws generally do not compel action. Such laws protect from legal liability those who have no duty to intervene and do so anyway.

Even if such laws did compel action, would this be good policy?

by WRD on Feb 23, 2012 11:23 pm • linkreport

Leering and rude comments are protected speech. Groping OTOH should be rewarded with a kick to the junk.

by TGEoA on Feb 24, 2012 12:01 am • linkreport

We need to distinguish the metro employees from the customers. As TGEoA just pointed out, leering and rude comments may be protected speech--but that's only for Metro customers. That bus driver has no protected speech while on the job. And while that bus driver is not exactly the customer's boss, there is some sort of a power-relationship that makes "harrassment" the correct term even for speech that might be (barely) within the tolerable range for someone on the street. The apparent lack of interest on the part of Metro in complaints about harassment by Metro employees is customer service at its worst; a bartender or waitress would be immediately sent home for the day--and maybe worse--for the comments reported here.

Harassing behavior by fellow customers will be more difficult to police, and some of it may be protected--but there is no right to speak in a railroad car. If this is really a problem, Metro could have quiet cars like passenger railroads.

And at the very least, Metro should be tracking the complaints and enterring it into a GIS data base that managers and the public can read; if managers are unable to fix hotspots, at least customers can be warned and if possible avoid them. Abusive is abusive, but it tends to hurt alot more when it is unexpected.

by Jim Titus on Feb 24, 2012 6:38 am • linkreport

If you want to create a culture of respect, you MUST start at the top. A public two or three day suspension of Taborn and Stessel would do wonders to get their attention and the attention of those down the chain of command.

Then you call in the union folks (fortunately there are women among their leadership) and tell them that this stuff has gotta stop.

But to get cooperation from the union, the first actions must be against management types. They have fostered and continue to excuse this culture of harassment and disrespect.

by Mike S. on Feb 24, 2012 9:10 am • linkreport

I dont understand what people really expect WMATA to do about this the can spend the money to make up programs and train employees but what they isnt going to do is stop someone for say something to you that you dont like if you dont want anybody saying anything to you stay in the house

by Jerome on Feb 24, 2012 9:12 am • linkreport

@TGEoA, leering and rude comments may be protected speech in some places (not in the workplace, for instance), but they are never appropriate. Even if there are folks that cannot be arrested they can be socially discouraged from their behavior and can be challenged and shamed by those around them, which is what should happen. They can also be thrown out of the Metro system; if we can arrest people and fine them for eating (also not illegal), I'm sure we can do it for sexual harassment.

by Joe on Feb 24, 2012 9:15 am • linkreport

@Jerome, you're incorrect. There are PLENTY of things WMATA can do that have been laid out in the post, by the people that testified, and in the comments section here. There are things everyone, you and I included, can do to stop and discourage harassment, and we have the opportunity and responsibility to do so.

by Joe on Feb 24, 2012 9:18 am • linkreport

I'm not sure I understand why harassment is free speech. A lot of the incidents I've been told about or ovreheard involve threats, or explicit statements of intention, and inexcusable invasions of personal space. Can someone explain how these aren't assaults?

by Neil Flanagan on Feb 24, 2012 9:23 am • linkreport

Comments that UNIONIZATION is a key part of the problem with this issue are 100% off base.

I'm an every-now-and-then visitor to DC who always uses Metro (bus and rail) when I visit. For the sake of this conversation, I should also identify that I am male.

I've had trouble with farecards, etc., in the past and with the exception of one helpful WMATA employee this fall who was already standing at a ticket machine helping others, the amount of disdain and contempt for me as a customer of virtually every other WMATA station attendant I've encountered is frankly, mindblowing.

I grew up riding the MBTA in Boston, which is of course unionized, and this type of thing doesn't happen in T stations. Their staff may not be overly cheerful Wal-mart greeters, but they answer questions, give directions, suggest alternate trip routings if they think you can get somewhere faster, etc. I've seen the same in NYC and Chicago.

I even put this question to the local ATU 689 rep when GGW hosted their comments a while back. The rep gave a non-answer that did not even acknowledge that other unionized transit workforces have vastly better customer service orientation than WMATA's unionized workforce.

See here:

Organizations create cultures over time. The WMATA frontline culture, which happens to include a union, includes a general disregard for the needs of the customer as compared to the needs of the staff.

A culture in which WMATA employees helped customers fight sexual harassment would be one in which customers who saw employees sticking up for their human rights would then, in turn, stick up for fair pay and working conditions for WMATA employees. This is a virtuous cycle of citizenship and public service that we all hope would appear in any city. It is telling that nobody at WMATA seems to see this as an opportunity to build credibility with their customers and citizens in general.

That the WMATA staff generally don't help enforce norms of decency or even participate in degrading behavior indicates the particular quality of decay within WMATA's workplace culture.

Other unionized transit cities in the US prove that this problem has acute local characteristics that are the exception, not the rule among transit properties, and that addressing those specific issues is the key to improving the situation.

by CityBeautiful21 on Feb 24, 2012 10:00 am • linkreport

Leering and rude comments are protected speech. Groping OTOH should be rewarded with a kick to the junk.

Nothing wrong with a PSA campaign, but this stuff needs to be addressed both from the top-down and the bottom-up. And it shouldn't be on the victim to react necessarily. We'd see a lot less of this behavior if the harrasser got a rabbit-punch to the back of the head from a well-meaning bystander while wiggling his willy at his harrassee.

by oboe on Feb 24, 2012 10:07 am • linkreport

"Other unionized transit cities in the US prove that this problem has acute local characteristics that are the exception, not the rule among transit properties, and that addressing those specific issues is the key to improving the situation."

I agree, these problems are not a result of unionization per se. But it is unlikely that ATU 689's organizational culture will ever change. The best short run solution, therefore, is some good old fashioned union busting.

by Phil on Feb 24, 2012 10:09 am • linkreport

First, 30% of the complaints are generated on transit, what about the other 70%? What are we doing to address those issues?

Secondly, every mother in the DC/MD/VA region should have a serious sit-down with their sons and tell them how to treat women. Every lady should have a chat with the guys they're dating and tell them how they want to be treated. Every lewd comment should be responded to with a kick in the junk or some pepper spray in the face. Tina said it right above, "Sisters gotta get together to combat this." There are many many smarter things you can do than play the cowering victim and spend thousands on cabs instead of taking the bus.

by MDE on Feb 24, 2012 10:11 am • linkreport

@CityBeautiful21: Is it correct to read your comment to say that "unions in general are not bad, but WMATA's unions contribute to its poor service culture?" Because it seems clear to me that union-negotiated work provisions here are a major problem in creating a culture without accountability (and in creating other problems, but that's a tangent to this post). And that an alternative would be for the union to try to hold its members accountable, which, as you note, they do not do.

by Arl Fan on Feb 24, 2012 10:13 am • linkreport

@MsD, FWIW, I live in SE DC (EOTR) and always have to be cognizant of my surroundings to prevent some idiot from trying to jump me. I keep the same manner when I'm boarding a train and see potential idiots. No, I've never been harassed on metro (if you don't consider the women who like to brush their brests up against me and stuff like that). I've never been attacked/harassed in my n'hood. But I still have to maintain an awareness wherever I travel in DC. That's urban life. Admittedly, I've never witnessed any of the things mentioned in this thread.

Unions are part of the problem? Oh boy, here we go w/more "it's the unions" crap. WMATA manages its employees. Unions represent their members. I'm not aware of any union managing the behavior of its members...nor should they.

by HogWash on Feb 24, 2012 10:27 am • linkreport

@Phil & Arl Fan

Metro's management has to manage its employees. If they want customer service to improve they need to figure out a way to track that and improve employee performance. Metro has shown over and over again that they can't be bothered to deal with this part of their business.

Union busting doesn't solve anything - you can't just fire your entire workforce and start over and expect things to get better. They won't.

by MLD on Feb 24, 2012 10:55 am • linkreport

@MDE - every mother in the DC/MD/VA region should have a serious sit-down with their sons and tell them how to treat women.

While I don't disagree your omission of the role of men sort of illustrates the whole problem of putting the responsibility of mens' behavior on the shoulders of women.

Fathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers, best buds and male acquiantances need to educate one another about how men act.

This is a problem of mens behavior. It won't change until men take on the responsibility for changing it.

In the meantime the ladies gotta learn some self-defense and kick some mo-fo ass when needed.

by Tina on Feb 24, 2012 11:15 am • linkreport

@Tina, the reason I excluded the men is mostly from a lot of comments I get from the women I work with who complain that there are no adult men in their lives, in their community. They're either lost to drugs, in jail or just gone. Therefore, no role models for the young ones to look up to, no examples to aspire to. I guess that's an oversimplification, and I apologize for the oversight.

But the thing is, as along as men get any sort of positive feedback (a smile, a blush) from unwanted sexual advances, they'll keep doing it. Heck, I think they'll keep doing it until they receive extremely negative feedback. Hence the suggestion of pepper spray and knees-to-junk contact.

Who would ever go on a date with a guy who cat-called you from a moving vehicle? Really, guys, has that EVER worked?

by MDE on Feb 24, 2012 11:30 am • linkreport

@Phil- I assume you mean union busting as a prelude to massive firing of bad employees. In a non-union workforce, this would probably have significant public impacts. The same would be true in a unionized workforce. I don't think this will help.

@Arl Fan- very close, but not entirely what I am saying. I am saying: "unionization is a method of organizing workers that can amplify a variety of elements of workplace culture, good or bad."

MLD says it well. Put another way, WMATA manages its employees and its relationship with ATU 689 in a way that amplifies facets of workplace culture that are very bad for WMATA customers. This must change.

If I were a WMATA Board member, and wanted to really make a difference, I'd start by reaching out to NYC, Boston, and other heavily unionized transit cities and figure out how their management of unionized employees leads to better customer service outcomes across the board. Fixing these problems is a long-term commitment to the stuff MLD is talking about.

by Citybeautiful21 on Feb 24, 2012 11:42 am • linkreport

@MDE - I get from the women I work with who complain that there are no adult men in their lives,

This is why I included "best buds and male aquaintances" on my list. I left off "men who are strangers and witness the behavior". There are men everywhere. Maybe you're a man. If you are you have a role.

Throwing the onus of responisbility for mens behavior onto women, especially onto moms, is the oldest sexist notion out there.

Some men are just assholes in spite of their great mom. They need to hear it from other men including, and maybe especially from strangers on the street/metro car. The message: "Your behavior is not an acceptable way for a man to behave. I know. I'm a man." If there's no intervention the behavior will never change.

by Tina on Feb 24, 2012 11:50 am • linkreport

@Tina, women can talk to men and put them in line because they have something the men want. Other men are competitors at best in this arena. You think someone who disrespects random women on the street is going to have any respect for random men on the street?

by MDE on Feb 24, 2012 12:03 pm • linkreport

@Tina, I cringed at MDE's suggestion that women (not men) talk to their sons because it assumes there is no male figure in their lives..which just isn't true. Whether a "father" is in the home, there is a homeboy, cousing, uncle or others who can address bad behavior. The problem is, we (men), as a whole do not. We just don't and it's irrespective of race or class.

I recently watched one of those "what would you do" shows when both a young adult man was "manhandling" his mom in the store. The other was a young boy (maybe 10) who was cursing and disrespecting his mom. In BOTH cases, not one man said a word. It's sad

But FWIW, this man does though. And yes, I've been cursed out in return

by HogWash on Feb 24, 2012 12:05 pm • linkreport

"I assume you mean union busting as a prelude to massive firing of bad employees. In a non-union workforce, this would probably have significant public impacts. The same would be true in a unionized workforce. I don't think this will help."

Reagan fired all of the country's air traffic controllers in one day and planes still stayed in the air.

If that was possible, I am pretty sure that with good management Metro could handle getting rid of its problem employees without significant disruptions. A lot of these people probably add zero or negative value anyway.

by Phil on Feb 24, 2012 12:15 pm • linkreport

This is a problem of mens behavior. It won't change until men take on the responsibility for changing it.

So I'm left wondering what a Transit Authority's role is addressing a wide-ranging societal issue.

A lot of comments say there needs to be a wide-ranging anti-harrassment message. But who should give that message?

Why is it WMATA? Why not the District government? Why not a state or local agency?

I don't see WMATA as the best messenger for an anti-sexual harassment campaign. Metro has the responsibility for running a safe, efficient transit system. Part of the safety part is enforcing laws, including the laws against eating and sexual harassment. Yes, the no food and drinks thing is actually a law, Joe. They simply cannot be responsible enforcing gentlemen's rules on their system.

And again, why does Metro own the conduct of transit users more than the Montgomery County Police own the conduct of pedestrians?

by WRD on Feb 24, 2012 12:20 pm • linkreport

"But FWIW, this man does though. And yes, I've been cursed out in return"

Props to you. And I also try to call out creepy guys on the bus or the Metro when it seems safe to do so. But you never know when someone is carrying a gun or knife. Or if they are mentally unstable/on drugs and are ready to snap. So I can't assign too much blame to those who feel uncomfortable stepping in.

by Phil on Feb 24, 2012 12:20 pm • linkreport

@MDE, You think someone who disrespects random women on the street is going to have any respect for random men on the street?


Its human nature to desire respect from others. If someone is already demonstrating he doesn't care about earning respect from women then you can bet doubly he cares deeply about being respected by his peers/who he perceives as his peers -other men.

Men who bully women are trying to express how manly or macho they are. They care a lot what other men think of them.

AND- Because men know they are much more likely to get their ass kicked by another man than by a woman they are bullying.

At some point men (all adults, even young adults) are responsible for how they act and can no longer blame their moms/dads/childhoods.

look, as many other commeters have said, if the unacceptable behavior is not called out the actor doesn't know its unacceptable. Once again -the problem we are discussing is mens behavior. Not womens. Not moms. Men acting bad is the problem. Therefore men have a unique role to intervene on the destructive behavior of other men/young men/adolescents/boys. Its a societal problem, not strictly a family problem. We are saying, as a society, as a culture, this behavior is unacceptable. It needs to be said out loud in public by other men who don't act that way.

@Hogwash - Thankyou! Now can you take on MDE who keeps insisting that women/moms are the sole responsibility for the behavior of men?

by Tina on Feb 24, 2012 12:33 pm • linkreport

@WRD -But who should give that message? Why is it WMATA?
1)part of the problem is the behavior of WMATA employees and the response of WMATA when a complaint is lodged against those employees
2)WMATA is a captive system. As someone else wrote, if eating is considered illegal on WMATA then surely threatening / assaulting someone while in WMATAs system can be addressed.

WMATA doesn't consider women being threatened a problem, but it does consider eating on the train/bus a problem. Everyone knows you're not supposed to eat on WMATA. Thus WMATA has demonstrated it can take on a mission of influencing behavior within its system with warnings and arrests.

by Tina on Feb 24, 2012 12:41 pm • linkreport


Sexual harassment is not about trying to get a date with the person you are harassing. It is about control, with the reward being the sense of excitement and satisfaction the perps get when they see their victims looking uncomfortable and/or scared. This is why when victims or bystanders do stand up to harassers, they are usually responded to with violence and other threatening behavior.

And no, sexual harassment is not just a WMATA problem. It is a societal problem that occurs in all public places, very often on public transit where it is easy for harassers to simply disappear at the next stop once they've achieved their objective. It is the least WMATA can do (especially now after the dismissive comments made by Stessel and Taborn) to conduct a public awareness campaign and educate their employees on the seriousness of this issue.

by Rebecca on Feb 24, 2012 12:48 pm • linkreport

part of the problem is the behavior of WMATA employees

Agreed, to the extent WMATA employees are responsible for the harassing behavior.

WMATA is a captive system.

I don't know what this means.

WMATA doesn't consider women being threatened a problem, but it does consider eating on the train/bus a problem.

To the extent anyone outside WMATA knows what "WMATA" thinks, I believe WMATA considers neither threatened women nor eating/drinking a problem. Let's also consider WMATA is a 10,000-employee organization with serious management issues. It is unclear that they have just a single position on any issue.

Thus WMATA has demonstrated it can take on a mission of influencing behavior within its system with warnings and arrests.

Agreed, to the extent the behavior is illegal.

But what is their responsibility beyond enforcing the law? Does this responsibility extend to all local governments and governmental entities in every jurisdiction?

I've mostly asked questions here, so my opinion is that issue is emblematic of growing crime on Metro coupled with some blundering public comments. I would like to see better enforcement of every law on Metro especially sexual harassment laws.

It is the least WMATA can do (especially now after the dismissive comments made by Stessel and Taborn) to conduct a public awareness campaign and educate their employees on the seriousness of this issue.

No, I don't agree. What good will a PSA campaign do to "educate" the public? How many people out there will be influenced? Will this make the problem better? I think PSAs probably rate adversely on each, but I'm open to evidence to the contrary.

I'm neutral to the employee education idea, but I wonder what good it will do. WMATA sexual harassment is only one talent management issue facing WMATA and I think education alone is unlikely to change anything.

by WRD on Feb 24, 2012 1:44 pm • linkreport

WMATA is a captive system.

I don't know what this means.

2 ways.
1) You're on the train with someone and stuck there. You're captive, at least until the next stop.
2) People riding the train/bus are stuck on there until they get off. There are plenty of opportunities to communiticate with this captive audience during their ride.

by Tina on Feb 24, 2012 2:24 pm • linkreport

Hogwash, I get living in an urban environment and "keeping your guard up." If there were no such thing as sexual harassment, I would still check trains for obvious troublemakers and know where I was an who was around me on the street because of random crimes of opportunity. But harassment is a slightly different beast.

First of all, I'm being targeted for an immutable characteristic - being a woman. On numerous occasions I've been harassed when looking downright ugly (just woke up and took my dog out, heading home from a sporting event, etc.). There is NOTHING I can do to avoid being harassed. It's not like taking my earbuds out nd not flashing a lot of cash. Short of a sex-change operation, I can't hide the fact that I'm a woman, and even that might not work depending on how "feminine" I ended up looking.

Second, people COMPLETELY IGNORE harassment. I have a *really* hard time believing you've never witnessed harassment, particularly in DC. But you obviously have never *noticed* it. Could be willful ignorance, could just be oversight. I'm not blaming, just pointing out that when I can see this happen on a daily basis (in NE DC, Downtown, and particularly any place where there's a bar or restaurant), you've more than likely walked right past someone being harassed more times than you even can imagine. Even when people do notice, they do nothing. There were several men and numerous women around when that woman I escorted back from the restroom was being loudly, aggressively harassed. Why was it *only* me (the 5'5 woman) who stepped up and helped her out? Those guys and women heard what was going on (I mean, the man was shouting into the ladies room from the hall), all the women saw the woman cowering out of sight from the doorway, and everyone else just looked around uncomfortably. Where were the adults to help me out when an adult man was aggressively harassing me at *12*? I hope it never happens to you, but if you are unlucky one day and get jumped, or mugged, or robbed, or burgled, your neighbors will come to your aid. They may not fight the attacker/robber/burglar off, but they'll call the police, maybe even yell something out their window. Most people do *nothing* when they see even the most aggressive harassment, or even "minor" sexual assault such as flashing or groping. They don't even ask the victim if she's alright after the perpetrator is gone. It's truly an invisible crime to everyone but the perpetrators and victims.

by Ms. D on Feb 24, 2012 2:28 pm • linkreport

@WRD PSA campaigns work. See: seatbelts, smoking, back-to-sleep, breastfeeding, prenatal care, drunk driving, littering, unattended suitcases, etc. including no eating/ drinking on metro, no music w/o earbuds on metro, smartphone theft on metro...

Aside from not realizing that PSAs have been very effective in certain areas of public health and crime your attitude seems to be "what good will it do. So lets not do anything."

by Tina on Feb 24, 2012 2:33 pm • linkreport

@MSD, I have heard women being propositioned while walking down the street and in other places. Cat calls and all that.

My point is that I can't recall hearing such on the metro nor have I seen women ben being physically harassed..such as the groping, fondling breasts that's been mentioned here. Flashing? No, I can say w/authority that I've never witnessed such.

by HogWash on Feb 24, 2012 2:47 pm • linkreport

@CityBeautiful21, @MLD: If any criticism of the union's role or suggestion that the union should take a more active role in setting expectations for its members is "union-busting," then I guess you're applying the label fairly.

But I don't think that present circumstances requires cleaning house and firing all the Metro employees, as is suggested by Phil's analogy to the air traffic controllers. Something does need to change, however, when the union is both able and willing to use the tools at their disposal to actively prevent Metro from "manag[ing] its employees" and "improv[ing] employee performance," as MLD suggests Metro should do. When attempts to measure employee performance or to boost performance standards are met by threats of organized union action and efforts to discipline employees who fail to meet professional standards are challenged by the union and reversed by union-friendly arbitrators, it affects the culture just as statements, actions, and priorities of management do. Yes, this in part reflects a failure by Metro management to prioritize service standards in negotiating contracts with the union. But it also reflects a failure by the union. And I don't accept those comments that say: "it's not the union's role to do that." Of course it is. Organizations of all kinds, including unions, make clear the standards they expect from their members because the actions of one member reflect on the actions of all. And because the success or failure of their employer will affect the well-being of all.

by Arl Fan on Feb 24, 2012 2:54 pm • linkreport


I am aware PSAs have been used to discourage smoking, drunk driving, and unprotected sex. They have been used to encourage healthy eating, seat belt use, and vaccines. None of this speaks at all to the effectiveness of the PSAs. Did seat belt use increase because of PSAs or despite PSAs?

Again, I am open to evidence on this issue, but your comment confuses correlation and causation.

by WRD on Feb 24, 2012 3:03 pm • linkreport

Well put, WRD. People assume PSAs are meaningful and helpful, often despite the data. Even worse, people assume correlation=causation.

I remember I was in Ireland in 2006, and saw some really offensive PSAs in a pub bathroom. I was literally peeing on an advertisement with bloody dead people encouraging me not to drink and drive.

In 2003, DUI deaths in Ireland were up. By 2008, they had declined ( Did PSAs serve as the reason that DUI deaths decreased? Or were other factors at play?

Anyways, more data is needed to show that PSAs would actually be effective. Citing the ipod thefts is silly, because I didn't look at those and think "it had never occurred to me that somebody might want to steal my $200 music device."

Now, you can argue that PSAs in this instance stand a chance of being more effective, since many potential victims might not know what to do. Even still, there has not been much data presented to suggest that PSAs really make a demonstrable difference, or will in this case.

by Jim on Feb 24, 2012 3:13 pm • linkreport

@WRD - I don't have time to find and provide the evidence for you . It is well documented that societal awareness of and a change in attitude from "acceptable" to "unacceptabel has resulted in a substantial reduction in drunken driving. Same for prenatal exams . the best investment in public money for saving money later on. Ie. for every $ of public money invested in prenatal care something like $100 is saved later inprevented problems. This is well established.

There is eveidence that awareness of and change in attitudes in all the things I mentioned. I'm sorry id its rude to say "I can't get you the evidence". Its there. If you're really interested you can find it. I suggest starting with prenatal exams and 'back-to-slepp. B-T-S has significantly reduced the prevalence of SIDS w/ nothing but a PSA campiagn.

by Tina on Feb 24, 2012 3:15 pm • linkreport

"While the “magic bullet” is still
just a fantasy as far as PSAs are concerned,
research has reinforced the importance
of identifying realistic goals, receptive
audiences, and effective messages – and
then exhausting every possible media channel
to make sure those messages reach
members of the target audience enough
times.....But whether public service advertising
succeeds in this new environment will
depend upon the questions we ask, and,
even more, on the questions we answer, in
the months and years ahead."

Whether a PSA will be effective or not is a black and white question, Tina. PSAs can be beneficial, but it's not as simple as saying "let's do one." This is why a robust cost-benefit analysis is necessary.

by Jim on Feb 24, 2012 3:21 pm • linkreport

"My point is that I can't recall hearing such on the metro nor have I seen women ben being physically harassed..such as the groping, fondling breasts that's been mentioned here. Flashing? No, I can say w/authority that I've never witnessed such."

While I've heard the occasional lewd comment (and called people out on it) I haven't seen the more serious forms of harassment either.

Yet almost every woman I know has experienced some form of harassment on the Metro - whether it's groping, flashing, or in my fiancee's case, being followed home by a guy who was openly masturbating. So clearly it is an issue.

by Phil on Feb 24, 2012 3:23 pm • linkreport

@WRD -i just saw your patronizing comment about correlation. In fact you're the one showing little understanding of the subtelty and application of this concept when applied in epidemiology, which is the study of health and disease in populations, which the subject of womens health falls under, which is an aspect of what we're talking about -violience against women.

As to your seemingly crude understanding of correlation, "Correlation does not imply causation" is a common theme for much of the epidemiological literature. For epidemiologists, the key is in the term inference."

by Tina on Feb 24, 2012 3:27 pm • linkreport

@Jim Whether a PSA will be effective or not is a black and white question, Tina.
I never said it was. WRD did. s/he said "There is no evidence they (PSAs) work". That is what I refuted.

by Tina on Feb 24, 2012 3:31 pm • linkreport

@Tina -- Sorry! Sometimes in a thread with an immense amount of posts, you lose track. My bad!

by Jim on Feb 24, 2012 3:33 pm • linkreport

This is getting into ridiculous territory, so here's my final comment.

You're right, I have no idea what the epidemiological literature says about anything. My background is in economics. The connection to epidemiology seems a little shaky to me (why not sociology or criminology?). But it does seem plausible.

I don't know what effect PSA campaigns have. You seem to believe they're effective. I am skeptical. I think it is implausible PSA campaigns do much, but I would love to see some evidence one way or the other.

If you don't have any evidence, that's fine. I'm not quoting from the economic literature either! I am just saying it's a weakness in the argument for a PSA campaign.

by WRD on Feb 24, 2012 4:02 pm • linkreport

@WRD heres some evidence:

The Back to Sleep campaign began in 1994.
Since the campaign started, the percentage of infants placed on their backs to sleep has increased dramatically, and the overall SIDS rates have declined by more than 50 percent (PDF - 49 KB).

This is an example of epidemiology.

We are talking about violence against women. Threatening and touching, i.e. assualt. In addition to a criminal issue its a public health issue b/c it affects womens' well-being and health on a population scale. This is epidemiology.

Epidemilogy encompasses sociology (with emphasis on quantitative analysis and evidence that sociology is sometimes percieved to lack) as well as other disciplines.

There is ample evidence that PSAs inform, change attitudes and behavior, and save lives.

Quick -what do you do if your clothes catch on fire?

I am asserting that a simple PSA campaign, like the example from the CTA, has the potential to change attitudes and behavior. Why? B/c other types of PSAs have done just that.
Accompanied by taking steps to change the culture at WMATA from the top down and within the union wrt womens safety.

Do i know if it would work? No. but I can look at existing evidence from other PSAs to make an informed hypothesis. Of course data should be collected and the effectiveness of the PSA tested. Thats epidemiology. but if you do nothing then you can't test anything.

by Tina on Feb 24, 2012 4:27 pm • linkreport


The instances you mention, BTS,SD&R were far more than PSA campaigns. They were TARGETED campaigns at point of sale. Pediatrician offices, schools etc.

by TGEoA on Feb 24, 2012 11:55 pm • linkreport

"It's funny how unwanted sexual comments constitute sexual harassment in the workplace and schools, but, according to the police officer, they are free speech on the Metro system."

That police officer would be correct. It is a free country where you are free to say whatever you want to people in public. In the workplace it isn't even individuals that are liable it's their employer. It's also only a civil matter. In other words if your coworker sexual harasses you at work all you can do is sue the company and all they can do is fire the offending person. It's not as if anyone is going to get hauled off to jail for making a lude comment in any scenario.

The groping is one thing but I think it's going a little far to be policing what passengers on a public transportation system can say. Not only is it unconstitional I'd go so far as to say it's morally wrong. You do not have a right not to be offended by what other people say. Grow some thicker skin or a sharper tongue to fight back.

by Doug on Feb 25, 2012 4:14 am • linkreport

Also, as long as I'm offending every female on here I'd like to point out that just because I have a penis doesn't make me responsible for your self defense. I mean seriously, you honestly expect people to start fights with random strangers on your behalf? Sure a lot of guys will talk a good game on here and elsewhere but as you will notice from a lot of these anecdotes, irl it ain't gonna happen, nor should it. Realistically you can't expect others to take an assualt charge or a beating for you. Also, how do we know that's not your crazy boyfriend or some other situation?

I'm mean I'm not saying I'm going to stand around and watch a women get raped on the metro platform but outside of that I'm more than likely going to mind my own business and so is everyone else. Sorry but that's life.

by Doug on Feb 25, 2012 8:29 am • linkreport

You sound like a real winner, Doug. Thanks for putting out that extra little effort to make our community better.

by Long-time local on Feb 25, 2012 8:56 am • linkreport

@TGEOA, The instances you mention, BTS,SD&R were far more than PSA campaigns. They were TARGETED campaigns at point of sale. Pediatrician offices, schools etc.

Yes they were targeted to an audience. But I would not characterize them as "far more than PSAs". The NIH calls BTS a PSA campaign. All PSAs are targeted to a specific audience.

A PSA in the WMATA system is targeted to WMATA users and perhaps WMATA employees.

Thats the denominator. Perhaps 2 diff numerators 1)women who might be affected/exposed 2)men who might be the "agent of disease" if you will.

I'm pushing back against the preconceived notion that "PSAs don't work/there's no evidence that they work."

by Tina on Feb 25, 2012 10:03 am • linkreport

@Doug-you can't expect others to take an assualt charge or a beating for you.

I think you're responding to some of the comments I made. I agree w/ your statement above. Thats why my first comment included "women gotta organize to protect one another and collect the couraage to kick ass if its called for."

My other comments about men taking responsibility were push back against the assertion that moms/women need to educate men/ and/or the bullying is some kind of lame wooing device. No. Neither. Men need to educate themselves about both.

by Tina on Feb 25, 2012 10:10 am • linkreport

@TGEO, btw I didn't learn SD&R at a doctors office. I learned it in grade school at a special assembly in the gym w/ the whole school at a presentation given by local firefighters.

It was a PSA targeted to kids in school. Yes it required cooperation from sch admin and teachers. They had a an interest in teaching kids SD&R.

Just as a PSA campaign in WMATA requires cooperation from WMATA who may see they have an interest in reducing incidents of whatever the subject of the PSA is, i.e. ipod theft or unattended suitcases; "Is that your bag?"

by Tina on Feb 25, 2012 10:20 am • linkreport

Unions have two roles in this type of situation. First of all, they represent their members and provide them legal representation, often when those members are wrong.

Remember the bus driver who punched out McGruff the Crime Dog? He should have been fired, but the union took up his case and he only got suspended. And since the union members pay dues, the union's primary responsibility is to represent them. And that includes the sexual harassers.

The union's secondary responsibility is to protect its own members and the general public from sexual harassment.

I'm not making a value judgement here. I'm a member of three different unions, active in one, inactive in one, and a retired life member of a third.

The only way to get the union to play an active role in combatting sexual harassment is to start at the very top.....go after non-union (management) types and urge the union members to report any cases of union members being harassed. A large percentage of WMATA workers are female union members. Only then do you work with the union leadership (which includes women) to educate workers that harassment is not to be tolerated.

You MUST make it clear that this is about respecting women, and not some sort of anti-union activity. If you don't first go after Taborn and his crowd, don't expect the Jeters of this world to listen to you.

by Mike S. on Feb 25, 2012 11:42 am • linkreport

Issues like this are part of why so many people who could use transit continue to choose to drive, especially if they work late hours. It's the "public" in public transportation that scares them.

by Mike O on Feb 27, 2012 11:27 am • linkreport

i think sexual harassment is bad and retarted if your to lame to get some then you shouldnt force young people or anybody at all nobody should be touched wrong if they didnt want it. it makes you feel bad inside and your never the same and to the guys theyll just keep doing it again or girls. theres no point and i think it should be longer there are to many sexual harassers out there. and some that even go to my school at WMS

by lacey on Mar 2, 2012 6:34 pm • linkreport

Ive been sexually harrassed on numerous occasions by low class perverts who have no life and do nothing but come outside and stare, harrass and say obscenities towards women who are obviously attractive and take giving a simple compliment to and extreme level that I believe should be punishable. It's disgusting to the point where I get offended because they actually think they stand a chance with beautiful young women and they simply don't. Even metro employees sexually harrass me from train operators, bus drivers, station managers, janitorial staff, etc..... And then to top it off the people whom could actually do something about it but downplay it to make there job easier. It's pitiful and sad that women have to watch there back and front and make sure that they don't make contact with these manaces to society. You have these men out there that will give a sexually suggestive comment and get ignored because the women know their intentions, and yet their dumb to a point where they can not comprehend and take the hint and end up tapping and putting their hands on female, not only is this unattractive, but this is violation. Then you have men who see an attractive female on the train or bus and sit right next to them or in front of them, turn around and try to make conversation. Women want to get from point A TO B and that's it. And most women don't want to pick up anything of the street and take them home to their parents. The problem is these men are ignorant and do not know how to take know for an answer. And they are not men to display this behavior..... They are little boys. I understand that all men hate rejection, but when it come to people's personal space and respect, don't violate!

by Gigi on Mar 7, 2012 1:13 pm • linkreport

What can be done about women who drive Metro Buses at night and are harassed by men who ride the bus?

I know a few ladies who are harassed and verbally harassed almost every night by Hispanic males, White males and Black males.

by Benella on Nov 23, 2013 4:40 am • linkreport

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