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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Perverts on the Red Line make me see RED.

This came into my inbox from reader Lindsey:

About a year ago, as I was commuting to work on the
Red Line, a man wearing baggy gym shorts got on my
train at Metro Center. I was running late and the car
was fairly empty for a weekday morning. He sat down
on the other side of the doors facing me and just
stared. Within moments, this man splayed his legs
letting EVERYTHING be seen, and began rubbing himself.
There were other people on the train and I remember
thinking to myself, “Is this really happening?
Doesn’t anyone else see what is going on?”

Shocked and incredibly uncomfortable, I tried to avoid
his direct line of sight and shifted to one of the
seats situated to the side. I figured that since I
was getting off at Gallery Place to switch trains, I
would be able to remove myself from the situation
rather quickly. As the doors opened, I practically
leapt off the train and walked as fast I could to the
platform below to get on the next train. Luckily, one
was just pulling up. The doors opened, I got inside,
took a deep breath and thought to myself, “Wow.
Crisis averted.”

Just as the “Stand back, doors are closing” warning
played, the man jumped between the doors and got onto
my car. I could not believe it. He took the same
seat on the other side of the doors facing me and
picked up right where he had left off. I again
switched seats so that I was to the side and just
counted the minutes until it was my station. This man
masturbated the entire way from Gallery Place to
L’Enfant Plaza. I could see the reflection of his
face in the door, staring at me with this smirk on his
face, as if to say, “Like what you see?” While I did
not make eye contact with him, I could still feel his
eyes on me. Once the train arrived at L’Enfant Plaza,
I made a mental note of what the car number was and I
went straight to the station manager to report the
man. I provided the train line and its direction, the
car number and a detailed description of what the man
looked like. The metro worker called Metro Center to
report the incident to the Metro Police and to see if
they could dispatch an officer to the train at the
next station. I left my business card with the
station manager and went to my office.

The second I sat down at my desk, I started to cry. I
couldn’t stop the tears and I just felt disgusting.
One of my co-workers walked by and asked what was
wrong. Between sobs, I explained what had happened.
While I know he thought he was helping when he said
that I should be glad that the man didn’t touch me and
that things like that happen – he made me more upset.
I shouldn’t have to take comfort in the fact that the
man just masturbated in front of me – it shouldn’t
have happened at all. And to say, “things like that
happen,” made me feel worse. I didn’t want my being
violated to be dismissed or diminished. I wanted
justice. As soon as I was composed, I called Metro
Center myself to see if the man had been caught. The
woman who answered told me that she was aware of the
call from the station manager reporting a man exposing
himself and that officers were alerted, but
unfortunately, when they finally caught up with the
train a man matching my description couldn’t be found.
All I could think was that he was free to do it
again, to some other woman.

I don’t often think about that morning and I know that
I did the best I could in the moment - because,
honestly, who really has a prepared response to that
situation? However, sometimes I find myself thinking
of what I could have done differently so that he would
have been caught. Should I have gotten off at the
Navy Memorial station and reported it there? Would
reporting it earlier have helped? Could they have
held the train between stations while an officer was
dispatched to the next station? I can’t change what I
did, and dwelling on it will not help, but I can say
that if it were to happen again, I will be prepared.
Let’s just hope it doesn’t.

I hope it doesn't happen again either to anyone. No one needs to go through this. I want to know what goes through these men's heads when they do this. They must really feel horrible about themselves to make women feel uncomfortable. Lindsey did the right thing in reporting it to an authority figure...I just hope this fool is caught.

Whenever you see this happening, report it. By not acting, you're enabling this. We refuse to accept this as normal behavior. Take a stand!


Lisa G said...

About two years ago I was on the red line on a weekday, around 10 PM. I was coming home from a class and I took an inside seat, propped my knees up against the seat in front of me, leaned my head against the window, and fell into one of those sleepy commuter trances. I really must have fallen asleep, because I woke up to a warm feeling on the upper part of the back of my thigh. There was a man sitting next to me with a newspaper open, and he had his hand on my leg. I nearly knocked him over getting out of the seat and got off the train immediately at the next stop. No one saw him do anything, and I couldn't have proved it. I couldn't even have described him. He was sitting right next to me, but it wasn't his face I was concerned about, it was where his hand was. Frankly I just didn't want to get into it, and I was too freaked out to think clearly. I could still feel his hand there for hours after and it made me sick. I like to think if anything like this ever happened on the metro again -- especially if other people were around and SAW it happening -- I would go straight to that emergency intercom thing and tell the driver to stop the train because of a sexual assault. I like to think that, but when these things happen it's very difficult to keep your bearings.

Lindsey, don't listen to that mess about "things like that happen." Your co-worker was probably trying to help, but that wasn't the right thing to say at all. Don't berate yourself for what you did or didn't do. I admire you for having the presence of mind to make an official report (which is what I should have done, at least for the sake of statistics, if not actually catching the guy). It doesn't make it any "better" that there was no physical contact. I think it would actually have made me throw up on the spot if some guy sat across from me on the metro and pulled it out. And he followed you into another car! I know what you mean when you say you felt disgusting. I felt the same way and showered for about an hour when I got home.

I hate it when I freeze up in these situations, and I don't know if it's my personality or the way I was raised, but my first instinct is never to start screaming about something in public. Partly I'm afraid I'll be blamed for causing a fuss, and partly I always have the thought, Wait, is this my fault? Did I do something to bring this on? I actually felt guilty for falling asleep on the train -- which is obviously never a good idea, but did I deserve to wake up with a stranger's hand on my thigh? I don't think so.

Rebecca said...

I'd like to think that if something like this happened to me, I would immediately get up and start shrieking and pointing. Or laughing. Make him feel as humiliated as he's trying to make you feel.