It's not news that sexual harassment is a problem on Metro. Survey data from 2015 determined that 19 percent of riders surveyed had experienced sexual harassment on Metro in Los Angeles. I would be willing to bet the percentage for women is significantly higher.
I'm not asking Metro to fix humanity. However, sexual harassment is a serious issue that deserves to be addressed with far more aggressive efforts than the lackluster ones Metro has put forth so far.
Last week, I saw a headline declaring that sexual harassment reports on Metro had declined. It was a decrease of one percent from last year. Was that decline really worth alerting the press for? Granted, harassment reports have decreased four percent since 2014. But still.
Officials credited Metro's "It's Off Limits" awareness campaign with the decline. I concede that doing something is better than nothing. However, the campaign's execution has been so subpar that it undermines the message.
I'm sure in my two years in Los Angeles, I've logged at least a hundred rides on the Expo, Red and Purple Lines. The vast majority of them were great, safe experiences.
Unfortunately, there were three rides that weren't. I have been the target of sexual harassment on Metro. Because of it, every other ride I take is tinged with a dull, aching fear.
The first incident happened on a cloudy Sunday morning. I was riding the escalator going down to a Red Line stop. I was digging through my purse trying to find my TAP card when I ever so slightly lost my balance and bumped into a man who had been standing probably four inches behind me on the step above.
"You're so beautiful," he hissed, so close that I could feel his breath on my ear. "You look so good in that dress. Why are you here alone? Don't you have a boyfriend?"
I made some dismissive remark and walked away quickly at the bottom of the escalator. I found a seat and took a couple deep breaths. I pulled out my book and settled in, thinking the worst was over.
Right before the train departed, he found me.
He sat in the seat right next to me, barricading me in, and started asking me questions. After a couple stops, he asked me where I was getting off. I informed him it was none of his business. He pulled back, acting offended, saying he hadn't meant to annoy me.
The next time the doors whooshed open he jumped out of the seat and onto the platform. The train whisked me away, but the tightness in my throat remained.
Having had that experience, I had high hopes when I heard Metro had released a new anti-sexual harassment video. I was sorely disappointed.
I was hoping for more than a series of talking heads obviously reading off a teleprompter in front of a background reminiscent of elementary school picture day. Curbed LA pointed out that the production value was dramatically lower than the snazzy Expo Line extension pump-up video Metro recently released.
The cheesy video is just one facet of the campaign's failings. Metro's entire "Off Limits" campaign is focused on vague admonitions and urging victims to report instances of harassment. Despite Metro's incessant reminders, I didn't report that incident or two others.
By not reporting them, aren't I part of the problem? Maybe so. But before blaming the victims, look at Metro's four faulty suggestions for reporting sexual harassment.
The first suggestion was to call Metro's hotline. The Red Line is completely underground, and currently doesn't have cell reception.
The second was to report the incident on the Metro Transit Watch app, which is separate from Metro's central Go Metro app. Even if I did manage to have pre-emptively downloaded yet another app on my already crammed phone, it requires the internet. Internet isn't available in the subway tunnels. And according to Mayor Eric Garcetti's office, nearly one-third of Los Angeles residents don't have high-speed internet access at all.
In the video, Metro suggested reporting the incident to Metro staff or security. None were present. In my experience, they usually aren't unless they are cleaning or doing TAP card checks.
The final option Metro gave was to report the incident using the train intercom. I would have to get up, stand in the aisle, lean over two passengers and announce the details of the uncomfortable incident to the entire train car. It was physically possible, but certainly embarrassing. And by the time I filed a coherent report, he would have been long gone.
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My frustration stems in part from the piecemeal approach of the campaign. Recorded warnings only play on certain train lines. Metro's video was posted on their blog, but offenders likely aren't the type to stumble upon Metro's blog in their free time. Some train cars have advertisements (many of which are defaced) using the same generic "off limits" verbiage.
I understand that financially, having an officer in every train car isn't feasible. Maybe every station isn't either. But having an increased human presence would be a crucial deterrent to potential offenders and a resource for victims.
Further, instead of espousing ways to report incidents, Metro should focus on prevention and intervention.
Defining what behavior is considered sexual harassment, providing concrete ways for victims to escape compromising situations, and instructing bystanders how to intervene would be far more beneficial than a floating head PSA.
I now realize on that escalator I could have easily stepped forward two steps. I could have run out of the train and hopped in a different car at any of the stops. But in the moment, I was paralyzed. I wasn't thinking clearly about my options. If Metro's advertisements had provided visualizations of how to get away from the situation, it could have made all the difference.
Now, I take my own preventative measures.
On Sunday mornings, I don't wear dresses anymore. I pass over the brightly colored clothes in my closet in favor of demure grays and khakis. I reach for my glasses instead of putting in contacts. My straightener stays in its drawer and I throw my hair up into the most severe bun I can manage. I always sit on the outside seat and wear headphones, whether I'm listening to anything or not.
These adjustments are no great tragedy. Los Angeles is a big city, and as a 20-something woman traveling alone, getting harassed is more or less to be expected. It happens on the street, on campus, and at football games. But somehow, it feels different while trapped in a train car.
I love the independence public transportation provides and I greatly admire Metro's vision to connect Los Angeles. But so many women have had experiences like mine (and far worse) that breed fear. Many of us ride public transportation because we don't have other options. What I ask is Metro's best effort to attack this topic with ferocity and to treat the victims of harassment with the importance and dignity we deserve.