Public Masturbator at MLK Library

Monday, April 11: It was around 7:30 pm and I was sitting at a table on the third floor of the MLK Library. I was in the middle of a timed section of test prep when a young man (about 20) came and sat beside me. I thought this was a little odd because the two seats across from me were both empty and social protocol would typically direct the person to one of those. He sat quite close and I could feel him looking at me in-between browsing a magazine. After several minutes of feeling uncomfortable, I turned to him for the first time and saw him rubbing his exposed penis. I immediately stood up and loudly went off on him about how he was disgusting and how this is a public place etc. A library staff person was sitting at a desk 10 feet away and I told him that the guy was touching himself and that something had to be done.

After some hesitation and apparent confusion on the library staff person’s part, he picked up the phone and called security, but security did not pick up. It wasn’t until a different gentleman at the table behind us spoke up and told the library staff person to call security again and tell them what this man was wearing that he made the second call. Meanwhile, the pervert sat for another minute at the table and then casually exited the room and walked towards the staircase. I should also note that the room was full of people who obviously heard what was going on and not a single person stood up, and only the one gentleman spoke up. Security didn’t come to the room, but the library staff person walked me downstairs to the security desk and I explained a security guard what happened and put the incident in writing. Once I was downstairs I saw that someone had broken a glass panel at the library’s entrance (a completely separate incident by a different person). This at lea st provides a partial explanation for why security didn’t answer to the call upstairs.

Tuesday, April 12: I went back to follow-up and explain my disappointment with the slow response time from the library staff. No, they did not find the gentleman. However, I was pleased that the library staff person (who reacted very slowly to the whole situation) had discussed the situation with his manager. I then spoke to his manager, a very concerned woman, and she told me that she had already planned to discuss the incident with the director and use it as a learning tool for the staff.

While I appreciate the manager’s compassion and it’s encouraging that the incident will be used a teaching tool so that the response will be improved next time, I can’t say that I feel completely safe in the library. I also want to note one of the more disturbing parts to me, which is that right after it happened and I said “he’s touching himself” very loudly, apparently the library staff person misunderstood and thought I said that he was touching me. I would hope that someone touching me would have created an even greater sense of urgency and action in that situation. But it didn’t.

Submitted by DK

Location: MLK Jr. Memorial Library

Time of harassment: Evening Rush Hour (3:30P-7:30P)

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2 Responses

  1. K

    MLK library is on my way home from work and I love to stop in to grab a new read for the bus. But the place is a sketchy-people magnet. I don’t know if it is because the homeless shelter buses pick up from there, or because it is in the middle of downtown or what, but I have never felt totally safe in or around that building.

    For example: I won’t take the stairs there. They are behind two sets of doors and well away from the lobby or any people. Plenty of graffiti in the stairwell; if people can linger long enough to create elaborate tags, they can linger around to bother/harass/attack people using the stairs. I only that the elevator.

    I also put on my “tunnel vision” and “stone face” routine every time I walk thru or by it. Too many weirdos try to make eye contact and start up a “conversation.”

  2. Shana

    This is distubring and I’m really glad you pressed the issue with the library. I am shocked by their limited response since have trouble imagining this has never happened before.

    I have a lot of positive memories of MLK Library from when I first moved to DC after living in a town without a library. For a dated building, there’s a lot of light. The hallways and staircases always have an empty feel to them, but it never occurred to me to worry about my safety. However, I have been unimpressed with the security staff. I volunteer at MLK in the evenings and security always seems more concerned with getting leaving on time than securing the building. Also, there seem to be fewer guards than in the past. I wonder is the budget cuts being discussed will impact security.