It’s scary, complex and overwhelming to respond when you’re sexually assaulted on public transit — even when you thought you’d be prepared.
By Jen Corey
“I was just molested on the train and I didn’t do anything to stop it.”
That’s the text I sent to [my friend and fellow CASS board member] Paula last night. My thoughts were racing and I didn’t know where to turn. I should have known better. I always promised myself that when this happened I would know what to do! I would shout! I would get help! I would fight back. But I didn’t. I stood there. Frozen. I kept promising myself, “If he does one more thing where I’m totally sure this is really happening, I’m going to say something.”
Yesterday I entered Rosslyn Metro station at 5:15PM. I know what time it was because I tweeted from the escalator. As I got down to where the blue line comes in, my train was pulling up. The platform was really crowded. I started to already feel nervous. As I neared the door, I could tell I wasn’t going to be able to fit in the crowded car. I stepped back to let the doors close. I’d wait for the next one. Just then a man put his hands on my back and pushed me into the people on the train. The doors closed behind him and I was crammed between him and another man. I had nothing to hold on to so I put my right hand on the ceiling. I tried to reposition myself so I wouldn’t be touching anyone else. Slowly I started to feel it. Something hard was pushing against my butt. I tried to look behind me, but all I could see was a man, older, dark suit, about my height- out of the corner of my eye. His coat was hanging on his left shoulder and his hand and arm were hidden. I thought, “Maybe he has a broken arm. Maybe that’s what’s hitting me.” But I knew… I knew what was pushing into the back of my skirt.
You can’t blame yourself. We’re trained for things all the time, but when they happen, sometimes you just freeze.
The doors opened at Arlington Cemetery, on the opposite side of the car I was on, and people started to shift around. I moved so my side was facing this man. As the doors closed and we pulled away, I felt that hard object again digging into my leg. I tried to look down, afraid of what I was going to see. I could see his hand moving around in his pants. I stuck my elbow out and into his abdomen to keep him farther away from me. He just pushed harder. I thought, “No, Jen! You know what to do!” I started darting my eyes around the car, silently begging someone to help. No one looked at me. We arrived at Pentagon and as the doors opened I jumped out of the car. I was ready to run, but the man followed me out. I tried to make eye contact with him, but he just kept walking. I jumped back in the train. I held it together until I got home. As soon as my door closed I burst into tears.
I’m a board member of CASS! I should know what to do! I emailed firstname.lastname@example.org. I wanted to get all of my thoughts and descriptions in writing as soon as possible. I texted Paula and she immediately called to talk to me on the phone. She reminded me that this was not my fault. That I was a victim of a disgusting crime, but that I can do something about it. I called Arlington County Police. Two officers arrived at my door within 15 minutes. After explaining my story they said that they needed to turn it over to Metro Police, but that they were going to follow up and make sure I was OK, make sure the metro video tapes were reviewed, and make sure an officer was there to see me within an hour. He even said that if someone didn’t come, to call him back and he would personally drive me to the offices himself.
I started off this experience feeling embarrassed and ashamed of how I acted when I should have known better. By the end of the night, I felt proud.
About 45 minutes later a metro police officer called me to say he was on his way. About 5 minutes after that, I received another call from another metro police officer letting me know that he had read my email! He was so genuine on the phone and worried about me and my safety. I told him that another officer was on his way and he said he’d make sure they were connected. He said to call him back if I needed anything. When the other officer arrived at my apartment, he sat for an hour listening to my story. He said that he gets about 2 of these calls a week, but he knows of other officers who get much more. He was a tough New Yorker, like me, so I told him that I was so disappointed in myself that I didn’t do anything. He said, “Jen, you can’t blame yourself. We’re trained for things all the time, but when they happen, sometimes you just freeze. We live in a big city and these things happen in big cities, but that’s not an excuse. I am so impressed by the amount of details that you remembered and that you’re following through with this. I can’t tell you how many people just give up. Your information is so valuable to us. These creeps are creatures of habit and he will do this to someone else unless we find him.”
I started off this experience feeling embarrassed and ashamed of how I acted when I should have known better. By the end of the night, I felt proud. I felt like our work with CASS hasn’t gone unnoticed. When I told the officer that I was part of the organization that helped get the harassment email address opened he said, “That’s awesome! Thank you!” I’m writing this to let you know that all the work CASS is doing is helping. And I wanted to thank you all for empowering other women, like me, to not feel ashamed.
MORE FROM “My Streets, Too”:
- How I Became An Anti-Street Harassment Activist, Renee Davidson
- The Five Kinds of Street Harassers I Met In Washington D.C. This Weekend, Danielle C. Belton
- My Streets, My Body: How street harassment impacts my weight, my eating habits, my health, Dechanique
- Follow-up: On the Reverse “10-5 Rule” and Walking While Female, Liz Gorman
- On the WMATA Anti-Harassment Campaign: Are we any safer than we were?, Allison Elder
- Getting Off the Train, Rosie Cohen
- When in Rome, Courtney Brooks
- Feminism, The Bus Stop, “AKD”
- When Standing Up to Sexual Harassment Makes You a B*tch, Renee Davidson
- It Feels Like This is How it’s Always Going to Be, Nancy Messieh
- On the Reverse “10-5 Rule” and Walking While Female, Liz Gorman
ABOUT “MY STREETS, TOO”
“My Streets, Too” is CASS’s ongoing series on personal writings on street harassment by members of the DC community. Email Renee to submit writings using your full name, initials, or anonymously (just let us know). Please be sure to use the subject line “My Streets, Too.”