Monday, June 26, 2006

Women Have Seen It All on Subway, Unwillingly

Women Have Seen It All on Subway, Unwillingly - New York Times: "It is a hidden reality of the New York City subway system, and perhaps mass transit systems everywhere since the first trolley car took to the tracks. It begins with a pinch or a shove, someone standing too close. But it can be much worse.

This week, as the Police Department announced the arrest of 13 men charged with groping and flashing women in the subways, women around the city nodded. Yes, they said, this had happened to them. Yesterday. Last month. Last fall. Twenty years ago.

It is a crime abetted by the peculiar landscape of the underworld that is the subway system, by the anonymity of a crowded car where everybody is avoiding eye contact. And by the opportunity for a quick escape at the next stop, to disappear behind a pillar, into a tunnel, up an escalator.

An impromptu survey of riders during the morning rush yesterday found that, for many women who have experienced it, the worst part of the crime is the sense of helplessness. What is the right way to react to a humiliating, but not life-threatening, situation? Should you announce to an entire car of strangers that you have just been violated?

Most of the time, the women said, they seethe inwardly but say nothing. Those who single out women on the subways do not care about race, if yesterday's interviews were any indication — black, Asian, Hispanic and white women all had stories to tell. But they do seem to discriminate by age.

Most of the women who reported recent incidents were in their 20's and younger. But the experience, women said, is so universal, and so scarring, that they continue to feel paranoid and to put on their body armor — the big bag, the bad face — no matter how old they get.

Women know the drill. Just as some men reflexively check to see if they have their wallets on a crowded train, women check their bodies. Some crime and subway experts with long memories offered a cautionary tale yesterday. A subway police squad in 1983 and 1984 looking for lewd behavior led to the false arrest of scores of men, most of them black and Hispanic. The men were accused of "bumping," the jargon for men who rubbed up against women, and other petty crimes.

The arrests turned out to be part of a scheme by transit police officers to inflate their productivity and win promotion, and it became a major scandal."

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