The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.


WMATA taking steps to curb sexual harassment

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.

Anti-harassment ad campaign on Metro. Photos by the author.

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 ( 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.

Artwork by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh.

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.

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). 


Add a comment »

Very important program, but they really need to get a better design firm for the posters to hone the message. The phrasing in that top poster is awfully awkward, and the bottom two sound rather hostile toward humanity in general.

by Chris S on Mar 6, 2013 12:24 pm • linkreport

I'm going to put up a poster in my office saying: "MEN; Do no owe you their time or conversation". I'm sure that will go over well.

by Arlington on Mar 6, 2013 12:27 pm • linkreport

I'm going to put up a poster in my office saying: "MEN; Do no owe you their time or conversation". I'm sure that will go over well.

It would be nonsensical. Because there isn't an overarching sexist societal norm that says that they do.

You fail to understand why sexual harassment occurs in the first place.

by MLD on Mar 6, 2013 1:15 pm • linkreport

Although that wasn't what Arlington was going for (and I hope you know it), MLD, you're absolutely wrong. I'm also worried your insistence that you know why harassment occurs blames the victim.

by selxic on Mar 6, 2013 1:43 pm • linkreport

Does this mean Metro's official position on sexual harassment is no longer "One person's harassment is another person's flirting...It really isn't a big issue" (WMATA Spokesman Dan Stessel, February 2012)?

by Jacob on Mar 6, 2013 1:45 pm • linkreport

Arlington was implying that broadly sexual harassment is a two way street. It very much isn't.

by Drumz on Mar 6, 2013 1:59 pm • linkreport

I believe he was implying that the message was highly confrontational.

by Chris S on Mar 6, 2013 2:10 pm • linkreport

I'm going to put up a poster in my office saying: "MEN; Do no owe you their time or conversation"

That poster, placed in an office, presumably directed at your co-workers would indeed be inappropriate. However, the poster is being placed in the metro system where it is entirely appropriate. Neither male nor female passengers owe you their time or conversation while in the metro system.

by Falls Church on Mar 6, 2013 2:12 pm • linkreport

Well how are you supposed to deal with someone harassing you? These PSAs in very clear terms explain what behavior isn't ok.

So if someone think a woman owes you her time because you say something you think is complimentary and her saying no thanks isn't enough then what will make someone stop?

by Drumz on Mar 6, 2013 2:14 pm • linkreport

I believe friendly respect toward all is the desired outcome, and people who do not show proper respect should be dealt with by the authorities. I think the confrontational tone in the bottom right poster is negative and counterproductive. Let's be kinder toward others, not more suspicious of others. Together we stand etc., etc.

by Chris S on Mar 6, 2013 2:43 pm • linkreport

I don't think the lower two-panel work isn't being used as an actual PSA or distributed as part of this campaign. It's just captioned as artwork. Would it be possible to get clarification from the author on whether this is part of the campaign?

by Gray on Mar 6, 2013 2:52 pm • linkreport

@Chris S: please explain how a sign on the Metro saying "Women do not owe you their time or conversation" is confrontational. Whom is it confronting, and with what?

by Miriam on Mar 6, 2013 2:58 pm • linkreport

Gray: Yes, my understanding is the Tatyana Fazlalizadeh stuff is not part of the campaign.

I think it makes an important social point, and perhaps as art ought to do, is clearly challenging a lot of people's assumptions. That is good, because there are definitely people out there who do believe women have a duty to respond, smile, etc. when strangers try to catcall/speak to/whatever them on the street, and could benefit from seeing some art and statements that make them uncomfortable and force them to think.

by David Alpert on Mar 6, 2013 3:24 pm • linkreport

@Gray, you are correct, the lower two-panel work is NOT part of the WMATA PSA campaign. The other two photographs used in this column are part of the PSA - "I'm not the one who should be ashamed," and "Rub against me and I'll expose you," are two of the three campaign posters that are out in the system.

by Caroline Lukas on Mar 6, 2013 4:28 pm • linkreport

It's easy to feel cornered and vulnerable on the subway or in one of its stations.

Thugs like to intimidate folks they think are vulnerable [smaller].

Good on WMATA for supporting this campaign.

by Capt. Hilts on Mar 6, 2013 4:54 pm • linkreport

Men - pretending to be friendly - telling women to smile is another form of this kind of harassment. Women don't owe men a smile, either.

by Capt. Hilts on Mar 6, 2013 4:56 pm • linkreport

Harassment is a way of life at wmata when they are trying to get an employee to leave and management condones this behavior or turns a blind eye.

Perhaps they really need their attorneys to put up an Employee Code of Conduct and enforce it to include 'bullying'.

by Donna on Mar 6, 2013 9:27 pm • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

You can use some HTML, like <blockquote>quoting another comment</blockquote>, <i>italics</i>, and <a href="http://url_here">hyperlinks</a>. More here.

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.


Support Us