What to Do If You are Sexually Assaulted on the MTA
by Erin BagwellFounder of Feminist WednesdayCo-host of BeaverTalk
This happened to me while I was on my way to visit family. Here's what you can do if it happens to you.
What to Do If You are Sexually Assaulted on the MTA:
If you feel safe enough take a photo of your perpetrator. The NYPD doesn’t request or need a photo, however it will be helpful when identifying your perpetrator later on. Your safety is the top priority, so don’t take this step if you don’t feel comfortable doing so.
Write down where you are (The NYPD need to know this to be able to pull up surveillance videos):
What time it is
What station you are in
What line you are on (R train, D train)
Where in the train you are (the front, back, middle, first car, second car, etc).
Write down any qualifying features of your perpetrator:
How tall was he? What was his body type? Slender, bulky, built, etc
What was he wearing? Hat? Coat? Glasses?
Did he have on jewelry or did he have any tattoos? Any qualifying or weird features?
What color were his eyes? His hair? His skin tone?
Anything else to note? His shoes, a limp, etc?
Sunday my husband Sal and I took a Bronx-bound 4 train to celebrate his dad’s birthday. While we were riding, someone who I identified as a weirdo got on the same train as us. He had dark glasses, an aggressive posture, and a jittery/perhaps drug-induced mannerisms.
He was the kind of person that you ignore, so as to not feed into the male ego of making it worse and elevating his behavior.
After being on the train for about thirty minutes it started to clear out. The further we got into the Bronx, the less people were in our train-car.
The creepy guy sat across from us and out of the corner of my eye I saw his hand move up and down his thigh slowly, in a stroking motion. All the hairs on my neck stood up and I looked his way to be blinded by an erect penis in his hand. He was masterbating in front of us.
Shocked, I involuntarily stood up and bolted to the other end of the train-car.
My husband Sal, who thought I got up to take a photo stared at me confused while I feverishly gestured for him to join me at the far end of the train. He did and I explained what I saw. When the train stopped we swapped cars at the station.
I took a few deep breaths but I was shaking. I felt like someone had stabbed my memory with a penis.
I felt sick.
I felt unsafe.
As a survivor of rape, I’m already pretty sensitive about being in spaces with men publically and my mind raced. What if something worse had happened to me. To us.
After a few more deep breaths I googled what to do. If you can, you are suppose to try to take a photo of the perpetrator. Sal and I peered into the other train car, but the man was already gone.
We decided to bury the incident from our brains until tomorrow. We had Westchester dinner theater to survive first.
The following day I filled out an assault form on the MTA’s website. You can find it here.
To my surprise a detective called me ten minutes later to confirm my story and asked me to come into the station to see if I could identify the person.
Having never been in a police station I was nervous about being there in person. Would they ask me what I was wearing? Question what I saw? I wasn’t sure I wanted to go through the emotional energy of making a formal case. But after talking about it with Sal, I decided it was the right thing to do. I wanted to make sure the NYPD and the MTA knew cases like this happened. I wanted it to be formally documented. However, having never pressed charges or gone through a formal assault process I wasn’t sure what I was in for.
So I went into the station in Brooklyn, and met with the detective that called me on the phone. He was super professional, respectful, and even remorseful. He told me cases like this happened all the time, and he was sorry it happened to me and my husband.
I had to fill out two forms: one was my official statement of what happened and the logistical details, which I signed. The other was a drawing of man’s body, that had you name key physical identifiers like: was the person wearing a hat, did he have any tattoos, was his penis circumcised or uncircumcised.
He put the information into a computer and pulled up criminals that matched the description to see if any of them looked familiar. Then he had me go through 5 binders full of sexual predators to see if we could find a match.
I identified a person that looked like my predator. Since he was older, and looked to be in his 60’s there was a smaller pool of people to identify. However on the train he was wearing sunglasses and a hat so unless I pick him out of a line up, I’m not sure a mugshot was enough to identify him.
The detective said he would question the person I identified, and if he was in the Bronx at the same time we were, he would bring him in for a line up and Sal and I would have to identify him in person.
I confirmed I’d be willing to do so.
I left the police station feeling sick to my stomach. Seeing the faces of all those men who assault women made my skin crawl. I felt small and overwhelmed, yet to get home from the police station I had to get on the train.
It was a debilitating reminder that as a woman public spaces aren’t safe spaces, and that we need to be aware, alert, and on guard in this patriarchal culture.
As a New Yorker without a car or an office, I’m constantly on the train going here or there to attend meetings and go to events at all hours of the day. It’s such an automatic part of my routine, I felt belligerently angry of the idea that I have look over my shoulder everytime I leave my house.
Whether I’m going to work or to dinner theater, I’d like to do so in a way that doesn’t threaten my life, my worth, or my mental health.