Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

Sex Crimes in New York City Public Transportation: Challenges and Opportunities for Reform

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Nicole DiMaria
August 25, 2023

Unfortunately fitting for its nickname “the city that never sleeps,” New York City transit sex crimes have a strong case of insomnia. Those who commit these crimes pay no attention to time of day, and don’t care if you’re on a station platform or in a subway car. They are fearless, even in the presence of bystanders right next to them, join you as an unwanted guest as you move around the city, then escape past police officers patrolling the next stop. 

Official data provided by the NYPD does not specify the number of sex crimes occurring in transit, so the relation between the two is unclear. When comparing data from Quarters 1 and 2 of 2022 to Quarters 1 and 2 of 2023, overall transit crime has reportedly decreased by 7 percent, while sex crimes other than rape increased by 5 percent throughout the city. The nature of transportation and the difficulty to surveil a massive system provides a breeding ground for transient offenders to go undetected and unidentified, and has been of concern since at least 1953. Additionally, less than 50 percent of subway sex crimes lead to an arrest.

Why isn’t this problem being adequately addressed? The majority of subway sex crime victims are women, and as a society, we still tend to blame the victim for sexual assault, rather than the perpetrator. Some women who experience groping, forcible touching and rape on the subways have reportedly felt afraid and ashamed and don’t come forward to report crimes. They also felt they didn’t have enough time to stop and file a report, or discuss their lack of faith in law enforcement and government to protect their rights or find their assailant.

Former-State Senator Diane Savino introduced a bill to address “subway gropers” by classifying forcible touching as a Class D Felony that could result in up to seven years in prison, but that bill has repeatedly stalled in the Assembly. Her successor, Senator Jessica Scarcella-Spanton, has expanded upon Savino’s original bill in the current legislative session, but the legislation currently in the Senate’s codes committee has yet to move.

Admittedly, the transient environment of the subway makes it extremely difficult to track down offenders, and challenging to staff the entire system with police. This past year alone, I was sexually assaulted on the subway, twice. I never reported the crimes because I thought of how easy it would be for my attackers to evade arrest simply by slipping into the anonymity of New York City at the next stop. Bystanders asked me why I didn’t call the cops. It felt illogical and pointless for me to report a crime that had occurred 10 minutes ago and in a different location from where I currently was, especially if the perpetrator exited the train immediately after the sexual assault and I wasn’t at my destination yet.

Governor Hochul recently announced the implementation of 5,400 cameras to surveil the transit system, including every subway car, but until then, we depend upon blurry and low-resolution stills from security cameras to attempt to find offenders, which proves challenging. Additionally, units such as the Transit Special Victims Squad are perennially understaffed and overworked. Other initiatives essential to support victims who speak up, include The Call is Yours Campaign from 2018 and the Transit Sex Offense Awareness website. However, the introduction of such initiatives does not necessarily result in justice, and it remains nearly impossible to find data that supports their current effectiveness.

As I understand what other victims go through, I often ask myself what could have prevented the sexual assaults and how it could be addressed in the aftermath. Research shows that the certainty of suffering consequences for committing a crime, rather than the severity, is effective in deterring such offenses; therefore, if potential offenders know a victim’s reports would lead to real consequences, they may think twice. This means better enforcement and a real commitment to ensuring adequate resources for law enforcement to pursue these cases quickly, with regular reminders via subway announcements about reporting sex crimes, ensuring that victims have a better sense that their claims will be heard and followed.

Awareness campaigns for “The Call is Yours” and the Transit Sex Offense website need to become prominent. For example, the news has not covered The Call is Yours Campaign in recent years. I believe it would have been especially beneficial for me and would help other victims of subway sex crimes who are commuting and unable to immediately stop to report the crime in person had we known of and been able to utilize campaigns that are there to help.

Although fearing retaliation in the moment is a real concern, knowing that soon after the crime occurred I not only could but would be encouraged to report it may have reassured me that New York City cares about this type of crime and these types of victims. Until more is done, I question when anonymity will stop hiding offenders from punishment, and when subway sex crimes won’t appear to be normalized as part of many women’s public transportation experience.

This piece is based on the Gotham Gazette article titled, “New York Must Do More to Prevent Public Transportation from Being a Breeding Ground for Sex Crimes”, which was written by this same author.

Author: Nicole DiMaria is a graduate of the Forensic Psychology program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She currently works with Alexander. J Paret & Associates and DOAR and is a Research Fellow at the Initiative for Gender Equity in the Public Sector (IGEPS). She may be reached at: [email protected]

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *