Crime Behind Closing Doors

This is reprinted from today’s Metro and was written by HollabackNYC co-founder, Emily May.

The MTA’s notoriously sketchy accounting has bled over from their ledgers into their crime stats. For the past three years, the MTA has declared a drop in crime on the subways. This is great news for straphangers — as long as they don’t mind a little harassment, assault or public masturbation on their morning commute.

The MTA’s crime statistics only tell part of the story — tracking felonies, but hiding common, threatening misdemeanors. At a forum on public safety in Chelsea, subway riders spoke out about the persistence of these crimes, which are often discrimination-based and disproportionately affect women, minorities and LGBT folk. Their stories were everyday occurrences. Take Alice, who woke from a morning snooze on the D train last month to find a man masturbating over her; or Elizabeth, a lesbian, who was followed through the station by a man repeatedly shouting “cunnilingus.”

While the experience of harassment and assault is widespread, our access to information on these crimes is severely limited. In 2007, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s office released the only report to date on the issue. According to the report, 63 percent of riders are harassed on the subway, and 10 percent are assaulted. With 5 million people riding the subway every weekday, it is fair to say that these crimes are at epidemic proportions.

The MTA’s recent anti-harassment PSAs suggest victims contact an “MTA worker or police officer.” This is an empty gesture; personnel cuts have made station attendants scarce. Riders lucky enough to find help are “ignored” or told “there isn’t much they can do,” according to posts on

The subways have come a long way since the ’70s, but cleaner trains are not necessarily safer. If we are going to herald our improvements in transit safety, “strikes, shoves and kicks,” “following a person in a public place,” harassment and other misdemeanors must be included in the MTA’s crime count. Until we have safety transparency in our subway, these crimes will continue to stand clear of the closing doors.

Emily May is co-founder of and New Yorkers for Safe Transit, and is co-chair of Girls for Gender Equity.Metro does not endorse the opinions of the author, or any opinions expressed on its pages. Opposing viewpoints are welcome. Please send 400-word submissions to
Emily May
is co-founder of and New Yorkers for Safe Transit, and is co-chair of Girls for Gender Equity.

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