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Sexual Harassment on New York City Transit

November 19, 2019 Miranda Card

Sexual harassment is a topic I discuss with a new friend from school. On Monday nights, we take the train home from class together. We get out late, after nine o'clock.

For a couple of reasons, I go out of my way to take the one train, which I don't usually take. First, the walk to the one train is through campus, which is filled with people. It's safer than walking up to the A train in Harlem, where the streets are often emptier. The second reason is that I don't want to travel alone. Taking the train with her is less nerve-racking than taking the train by myself.

In the beginning, my friend and I didn't really talk about sexual harassment on New York transit -- we just knew stories about it were true. But recently, we lamented our shared sexual trauma. We talked about all the instances of sexual harassment and assault we experienced over the course of our lifetimes on the subway. We laughed a lot -- it was ridiculous. But we both knew that when these events actually happened, they weren't funny at all. And our camaraderie came from a shared caution and shared trauma.

Sexual Harassment on the Subway Is Part of Being a Woman in New York

One of the first things my mother taught me was how to elbow a man who was touching me inappropriately on a crowded train. It turns out, this is a useful skill. In the years since puberty, I have been groped, my butt has been grabbed, one guy rubbed his crotch into my face. These are just some examples. In general, I respond with no response. If it's crowded enough, I elbow. Short of that, I stare at my feet and hope my assailant goes away. I avoid eye contact. The reason these moments are so scary is the possibility that my aggressor will decide to take things a step further, to hurt me. I do what I can not to provoke an aggressor. 

Women Handle Sexual Harassment in Different Ways

My friend told her own stories about the sexual harassment she experienced. In one instance when a man pulled out his penis, my friend did not let it go quietly, as I would have. She shouted and insulted him. She even tried to slam his penis into a door. Together, we evaluated our different responses. I admire her for standing up for herself. As she told her stories, I couldn't help but feel meek and timid; I would never have the courage to make a scene the way she did. She told me that my way is probably safer and that I keep the situations from escalating. But I can't help but wonder if things wouldn't get better if we all reacted more like my friend. Men would know they wouldn't just get away with it. 

Men Don't Get Sexually Harassed in the Same Way

When I got home that night I told my boyfriend about our conversation.

"Do you ever get sexually harassed on the subway," I asked, "Are you ever afraid?" 

He told me no. 

My friend mentioned something else offhand -- on one occasion when she made a scene after another instance of harassment, a man who shared the train with her was shocked. He couldn't believe what he had witnessed. My friend told him that this stuff happened all the time. The other women on the train nodded. The man couldn't believe it. I like to believe that men are starting to notice, to try to help when things get out of hand. But for the most part, it's women who come together and help each other be safe.  

How do you handle sexual harassment? How has it affected the way you live your life? Please share your comments below.

See Also

APA Reference
Card, M. (2019, November 19). Sexual Harassment on New York City Transit, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, September 25 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/relationshipsandmentalillness/2019/11/sexual-harassment-on-new-york-city-transit



Author: Miranda Card

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