Subway Groping Editorial

4 days ago I wrote an entry about an article that appeared in the New York Post about the MTA choosing not go through with their anti-groping advertising campaign. I personally felt the MTA was wrong in choosing not to go through with the ad campaign. A day later an editorial by Emily May & Sam Carter appeared in the New York Daily News. Here is their editorial:

When the city wants to cut down on littering in the subways, we launch an anti-littering ad campaign. Domestic violence, an anti-domestic violence ad campaign. Panhandling, check. Heck, even tree-killing beetles get their own ad space.

But subway gropers and flashers? Fuhgeddaboudit.

This week, news broke that the MTA’s quiet preparation of an anti-groping subway ad campaign was put to a halt by MTA officials, even after they had developed mockups. The campaign was planned in response to a recent study by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer on sexual assault in the subway system – which found that 63% of respondents said they’d been harassed, and 10% said they’d been sexually assaulted.

The numbers are staggering, but we bet even these figures understate the facts. We and the thousands of New Yorkers we work with have experienced this epidemic firsthand – and we’re just plain sick of it.

That’s why in 2005 we started Holla Back NYC (, a movement to fight back against street harassment – by snapping photos of the perpetrators and posting them online. We understand that raising awareness and making perpetrators think twice are the best ways to bite the hands that grope us.

The MTA doesn’t get it. Their supposed reason for calling off the ad campaign? They’re reportedly afraid it might actually encourage more lewd behavior. As though a creep is going to decide to grope a woman only after he reads a subway advertisement.

They’re right about one thing: A campaign is likely to lead to an increase in harassment reports. But that’s a good thing.

In Boston, where trains and buses are adorned with posters shouting “Rub against me and I’ll expose you,” and “Flash someone and you’ll be exposed,” the number of reported groping incidents jumped from a reported 17 in June last year to 38 this year.

Chief Paul MacMillan of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority understood why: “We’ve brought attention to the fact that this is not acceptable behavior … and people are now reporting it more.”

Someone at the MTA seems worried about exposing the dirty underbelly of the city’s transportation network. They’d rather ignore it – and hope that it’ll go away. That’s a little like hoping the rats on the tracks will vanish if we avert our eyes every time they rear their beady little eyes.

Subway ads will work. First and most importantly, they will formalize the idea that subway groping is unacceptable. That will lead New York City women, like their Boston counterparts, to feel comfortable in calling out lewd pervs on their behavior. A likely rise in the number of incidents reported will be something to celebrate – because it’ll mean a rise in the number of men caught in the act.

On our Web site, we encourage women to “hollaback” to supposed “compliments” – or the all-too-common act of a rub or a grope – by taking pictures of their harassers and submitting them to our site, along with a short story.

When the site launched, it hit a nerve. Street harassment, we discovered, was just one piece of a much longer spectrum violence against women. As with more serious forms of assault and rape, women are often scared to speak up about their experiences.

Submissions to our site demonstrated the sad truth that women often blame themselves – because piggish behavior is so widely accepted. To make matters worse, those who stand up for themselves are often treated with hostility by the authorities.

Recently, Holla Back NYC has been flooded by stories related to assault, groping and public masturbation. In one devastatingly illustrative story, a woman wrote about being assaulted on a train. She did what was right and went to the authorities. Their response: get a gun.

That’s a reminder that greater public awareness on the subways alone will not be enough. It needs to go hand in hand with better police training and an additional public awareness campaign on the sidewalks of our city to address the scourge of mistreatment of women and its consequences.

But for starters, let’s get these ads off the drawing boards and into our daily commutes. If we have room for subway poetry and Dr. Zizmor, surely we can find space on our trains to take a stand against street harassment.

May and Carter are co-founders of Holla Back NYC.

Their last paragraph showcased the correct point of view beautifully. I could not have said it better myself.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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