I heard it yesterday and then again today. It could be I’ve missed it before while in a straphanger fog. But two days in a row means it’s probably real and not an illusion.
Yesterday I was on the F train coming home at about 6:36pm. The train was sparsely populated with lots of empty seats. I looked up from my book when the announcement came on because we were stopped between stations at the time and I thought the announcement would be about a delay on the line. I pay attention to delays.”Ladies and gentlemen,” the conductor’s voice began. “A crowded subway is no excuse for a crime of sexual misconduct.” There was more, but I lost some wondering why he was talking about a crowded subway when the car wasn’t even a quarter full. I looked around to see if I was missing some large grouping of people all pushed together somewhere out of my line-of-sight. The conductor might also have said, “sexual harassment crime” instead of “sexual misconduct,” but that could just be me, hearing things, because I’m taking my agency’s, mandatory all-staff-must-attend, yearly workshop on sexual harassment in the workplace on Friday. I looked for a pen to write down what I’d heard, but by the time I found one the lines were already fading from my memory. There was something about, “… report the crime to your nearest MTA official.” It could have been farthest MTA official, or nearest police, or farthest transit officer, but I missed it so I don’t know.
Today at 5:38pm, on a half full V train sitting at 23rd street, an announcement came on the loudspeaker that sounded like it was a canned PSA. “There is no excuse for sexual misconduct on the subway. If you believe you have been the victim of a crime please contact… ” I missed the rest while I wrote the first part down. I have to learn how to write faster. This time there was nothing to do with a crowded subway and it was followed by an announcement on the train intercom, right above my head about delays in front of us and all trains going express on the F line.
A cityroom blog at the NY Times from October 2, 2009 has the full quote. It seems the campaign was originally a subway advertisement PSA. It said, “Sexual Harassment is a Crime in the subway, too — A crowded train is no excuse for an improper touch. Don’t stand for it or feel ashamed, or be afraid to speak up. Report it to an M.T.A. employee or police officer.” There’s some cause and effect. A June 2006 incident following a July 2007 poll of 1,800 straphangers stating that a large proportion of women had been harassed or assaulted, culminating in the written PSA in September 2009, a slew of handouts (neither of which I’ve ever seen) and either a verbal PSA or a conductor taking the initiative and doing a live version in March of 2010. A four year odyssey to try and address a problem that’s been around since the beginning of time. The problem, as usual with these kinds of campaigns, is it puts the onus on women to do something about it. Don’t feel ashamed or be afraid to speak up, the PSA says, as if the problem is that women aren’t speaking up rather than men behaving badly. Why not a message to all the people who see it happen and don’t say a word, saying, Speak up – don’t allow sexual harassment on the subway. Or, Don’t let men get away with this abuse. Or better yet, why not address the perpetrators with, Sexual misconduct on this train is a crime and won’t be tolerated. Don’t do it or you’ll end up in jail.
Maybe that will be next years campaign.