A Word From WMATA: Working to address sexual harassment & assault on Metro

UPDATE: Just two hours after we published this piece, WMATA announced an arrest in connection with two recent sexual assault incidents on Metro.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This morning, WMATA unveiled its revamped web portal – www.wmata.com/harassment – for Metro-riders to report incidents of sexual harassment or assault. The updated portal includes greater options for users to enter details on incidents. More details below.

By Caroline Lukas

The safety of our customers is the number one priority at Metro.  So, when it was brought to our attention a little over a year ago that some of our riders were becoming the victims of unwanted sexual attention their commutes, we knew we needed to take action.   Our general manager, Richard Sarles, asked us to form a task force to find out exactly what was happening on the Metro system and come up with a plan to address it.

A group of us spanning many departments came together to examine the problem of sexual harassment and assault on Metro and what needed to be done to ensure the safety of our passengers.  With the help of Collective Action for Safe Spaces we revised the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s PSA campaign to let our riders know that harassment of any kind would not be tolerated on Metro.  We also added new reporting tools to help our customers reach out to the Metro Transit Police Department.  One of those tools was a web portal that allows a victim to fill out an incident report online, giving suspect descriptions as well as incident location and circumstances.

Photo via the<a href="http://blogs.gwhatchet.com/newsroom/2012/09/06/metro-ramps-up-anti-sexual-harassment-campaign-adds-posters-in-every-train/"> GW Hatchet.
A WMATA anti-sexual harassment PSA, first implemented in June 2012. Photo via the GW Hatchet.

Over the last year, we have noticed some key information missing from the online reports.  In order to accurately track the data it is important for us to get descriptive information of the individual, or individuals, involved as well as precise location information.  To help us remedy these problems we have revamped the website.  Please be as descriptive as possible and tell us all you can about your incident.  The more information we have the better equipped we will be in combating sexual misconduct on the system.

Another thing that came to light over the last year was that some of our riders felt that their accounts were dismissed when they reported them directly to Metro personnel.  To combat this we communicated with our employees about the importance of taking reports seriously and we are developing a training program that will help Metro employees respond to incidents with compassion.

In the coming weeks we will also begin working on a new PSA campaign for our bus riders with the hope of encouraging more reporting and plan on holding an awareness event in April.  We want all our customers to know that we take their safety seriously and encourage you to add MTPD’s phone number (202.962.2121) to your contact list, so you can reach them quickly if the need ever arises.  Please tell your friends to do the same.

Together, let’s work to make Metro a safe space for everyone.

A WMATA anti-sexual harassment PSA, first implemented in June 2012.
A WMATA anti-sexual harassment PSA, first implemented in June 2012.

Caroline Lukas is Media Relations Manager for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority-Metro (WMATA).