TAKE ACTION: Tell @WeMoveDC Your Public Safety Concerns!

A few months ago, you helped us tell moveDC, a project of the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), how critically important it is that DC’s long-term transportation plans address public sexual harassment and assault. With your help, we contributed to nearly 2,000 submissions about what makes for a safe, healthy and travel-friendly community. Now, there’s another opportunity to take action!

moveDC is currently in the process of finalizing its transportation plans, which will cover DC for the next 30 years. CASS believes it’s crucial that moveDC’s plans include efforts to address public sexual harassment and assault — an issue that overwhelmingly restricts the mobility of women and LGBTQ and gender non-conforming individuals.

Here’s where YOU come in. For its next round of planning, moveDC is asking community members to answer the question, “What can moveDC do for you?” They’re encouraging community members to send them questions about its plans via Email, Twitter and Facebook. We want you to weigh in with what YOU want from your city!

If you’re on Twitter, please take a moment to tweet @WeMoveDC about “what moveDC can do for you” when it comes to making DC safe. We can think of a few suggestions:

  • Many of my friends and I are harassed in public because of our perceived gender/sexual orientation. How will moveDC help us feel safer in the city?
  • I frequently experience street harassment on my way to work. I don’t want to have to change my routes or move to feel safe. What will moveDC do for me?
  • I like to run and exercise outdoors. How is moveDC making sure parks and alleys are safe?
  • I’m sexually harassed almost every time I [wait at the bus stop/ride my bike/take the Metro, etc]. What will moveDC do for me?

We encourage you to take this opportunity to let moveDC know what can be done to create a safer DC. More than 80% of women and LGBQT folks face gender-based street harassment. The decisions that moveDC makes will impact the mobility, safety and community connectivity all of those who live and work in DC — not just now, but for the next three decades. Tell @moveDC that you want safe spaces!

Tell DDOT: DC’s 30-Year Transportation Plan Must Address Street Harassment!

By Erin McAuliff

Volunteers for a community safety audit of Columbia Heights organized in part by CASS in 2011.

Your voice is important to DC’s long-term transportation plans. It’s critical that the city’s long-term transportation plans address the pervasive problem of public sexual harassment.

Agree? Continue reading.

Sexual harassment can happen anywhere, including while riding the bus, walking along the sidewalk or biking along your favorite trail. To improve the safety of women, LGBTQ, and gender non-conforming residents and visitors throughout the District of Columbia, the city should create a strategy to address issues of harassment when traveling because safety is about more than just preventing crashes. 

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) is currently developing a 30-year transportation plan for DC. With a stated goal of “bold and implementation-focused vision for our city’s transportation future,” DDOT has been focusing on making streets, sidewalks and trails safer and more efficient. However, the planning process has yet to focus on issues of public sexual harassment and assault.

How can you help? Add your voice to the conversation by taking a few minutes to complete moveDC’s MetroQuest Survey. (Quick instructions below!)

DDOT has been actively gathering input from residents since January through public meetings and its moveDC website, with a draft plan expected before 2014. And there’s still time for residents to complete moveDC’s MetroQuest Survey, which ends October 30th. Public sexual harassment affects us all, whether directly or through a friend, family member or neighbor.

DDOT’s 30-year transportation plan for DC should address the problem of public sexual harassment. It’s critical that we each make our very real concerns about harassment and gender-based violence an important part of DC’s transportation plans.  It’s not too late to fill out moveDC’s MetroQuest Survey and speak up about the need to prevent public sexual harassment in our community.

As DC Metro residents committed to ending public sexual harassment, CASS supporters have their eyes, ears and hearts open to the city in a way other mights not understand or initially consider. Survivors of sexual harassment and assault experience transportation-related issues on a daily basis that have not yet been expressed in moveDC’s plans.

Sharing your experiences and providing feedback will only serve to strengthen a District initiative that is going to lay the groundwork for the next 30 years and about 200,000 more residents. Consider, for example, that extra-long stoplight that leaves you vulnerable at an intersection where you almost always have an issue, that bus driver who will (or won’t) stop a block early for you so you feel safer about getting home at night, or those trips on the Metro when you are starting to feel uncomfortable but don’t get off, knowing that you’ll feel just as unsafe walking, biking, or in a cab. While DDOT promotes use of transit, walking and bicycling, transportation planners should work to create a safe transportation system that allows women, LGBTQ and gender non-conforming persons the ability to choose their preferred mode of travel without fear of sexual harassment. 

Now We’ll Walk You Through moveDC’s Quick & Easy MetroQuest Survey!

The survey is simple and can be completed in three (3) easy steps, which we cover below. Please note that our template answers are only suggestions; please feel free to answer every question in a way that best represents your own perspective. 

1. “What Is Important to You?” Select your three top values or priorities for transportation in the District!

The survey offers six values from which to choose the three most important to you, as well as the opportunity to create your own value(s). There is also a button on the bottom right to add a comment about the value. While all of these values are important to promoting safe spaces, we recommend that you list “Safety & Security” as one of your top values and include a comment like this:

“When planning for safety and security, please also consider how safe pedestrian and transit riders feel while walking, biking, or taking public transportation. Safe spaces that discourage gender-based violence are the result of the built environment and planning as much as they are the individual responsibility of our peers and neighbors.”


2. Now you’re at Step 2! Click on each of the three “approaches” (Stay the Course, Get to the Center and Connect the Neighborhoods) listed at the top of the survey page in order to see the performance of your values or priorities for each approach.

After you explore each approach and its performance, rate each approach by selecting the stars. You also can compare your choices to the choices of other participants. CASS endorses Approach C: Connect the Neighborhoods. This approach focuses on increasing connectivity, access, and efficiency of travel between neighborhood and key destinations citywide. It prioritizes local travel and protects local streets in residential neighborhoods from regional traffic intrusion. CASS feels this approach allows for increased opportunities for planners and city officials to consider ways to discourage gender-based violence on our local streets and public transportation. Approaches A (Stay the Course) and B (Get to the Center) are too big-picture and do not address the more nuanced issues that are part of promoting and maintaining safe spaces for everyone.

3. “Tell us how strongly you feel about things by using the coins to allocate resources to the items you consider to be the highest priorities.”

Each of the budget categories under Safety & Security have the potential to positively impact street culture, but there are two which are especially comprehensive in their approach to making streets safe and welcoming for residents of all ages. Here’s why you should allocate a few of your coins to them!Under the Safety and Security category, you will notice the survey includes the options to “Expand Safe Routes to Schools Program” and “Begin Safe Routes for Seniors Program.” Safe Routes to School and Safe Routes for Seniors are programs that focus on improvements that can be made to streets and pedestrian infrastructure (like adding bike lanes or improved crosswalks) to improve safety and mobility for people of all ages. Safe Routes programs are an important tool to achieve what are known as complete streets—roadways designed to enable safe, attractive, and comfortable access and travel for all users. Picture a street with only motorists and just a handful of pedestrians. Now picture a street with motorists as well as bikers, pedestrians and transit riders of all ages. Which street do you feel most comfortable on?

Almost finished…!

Don’t forget to include your contact information on the last page. This is also your final opportunity in the survey to advocate for safe streets, free of harassment. Consider including this template, or your own modified version, in the comment box on the final page:

“I am a proponent of safe spaces that women and LGBTQ persons are not afraid to travel through or occupy. When developing DC’s long-range transportation plan, please consider how planning and the built environment are related to sexual harassment and gender-based violence. I want a safe transportation system that allows women and LGBTQ persons the ability to choose the mode that is right for their trips without fear of sexual harassment! For examples of recent accounts of public sexual harassment in the city, please visit: http://www.collectiveactiondc.org/”

Now What? Attend a Workshop! Now that you’ve filled out the survey, you’re ready to attend one of moveDC’s final public workshops, where project team members will be discussing and collecting feedback on the performance of the three approaches in terms of reaching the District’s transportation goals. This is your opportunity to discuss how the approaches reach your own goals for safety and efficiency! There are (tentatively) five opportunities for members of the public to attend a workshop, listed below. Check out moveDC’s participation page for up-to-date information. We hope to see you there!

  • Monday, October 21, 2013 from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. at Union Station; 625 First St NE
  • Tuesday, October 22, 2013 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Dorothy I. Height/Benning Neighborhood Library; 3935 Benning Road NE
  • Saturday, October 26, 2013 from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at UDCUSA Retail Center 2nd Floor between Target and Best Buy (near escalator and elevator); 3100 14th St NW
  • Wednesday, October 30, 2013 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Petworth Neighborhood Library; 4200 Kansas Ave. NW
  • *WEBINAR* Thursday, October 24th, 2013 from noon to 1:00 p.m; sign up via www.wemoveDC.org

Erin McAuliff is a native of Brooklyn, NY. She holds a BA in Criminal Justice from the George Washington University and a Master of Urban Planning from Hunter College, City University of New York.  She currently serves on the Advisory Board of Raise Your City.

“It made me realize how dangerous DC is for the LGBT community”

Location: 14th & Park Road NW; in front of PNC Bank, across from Wells Fargo
Time: Evening Rush Hour (3:30pm-7:30pm)

I was standing at the corner waiting to cross the street when a van full of guys pulled up to the red light. As soon as the light turned green and they began to drive off, they yelled “FAGGOT” super loud. I was really thrown off because I haven’t heard someone call me that since I was in high school. It made me realize how dangerous DC is for the LGBT community. I am not even “flamboyantly” gay. I was wearing a t-shirt and jeans, but I was wearing a few bracelets on my wrist.

Submitted on 7/13/12 by “V”

If you experience or have experienced sexual harassment on the DC Metro system:
Please consider reporting to Metro Transit Police; www.wmata.com/harassment, on Twitter at @WMATAharassment, or 202-962-2121.

Do you have a personal experience with gender-based public sexual harassment or assault? Submit your story to help raise awareness about the pervasiveness and harmful effects of street harassment. All submissions are posted anonymously unless otherwise specified.

She opted for a neighborly hello, he opted to sexually harass her

Location: 8th & I Street, NE (Union Station/H Street)
Time: Day Time (9:30am-3:30pm)

Yesterday I was walking home from work wearing a plain unisex crewneck t-shirt, and I was in a good mood. An elderly gentleman walking the opposite direction smiled at me and I prepared to say hi, as exchanging greetings with strangers is common and conisdered polite in my neighborhood, and is even expected. I smiled at him as he approached and said hello, and he said “well, you’ve got some pretty little titties, don’t you?” as I passed. I felt violated and ashamed, and walked the rest of the way home with my arms crossed over my chest. I’m used to street harassment when I wear tank tops and dresses, not because I’m into victim-blaming but it just seems to happen, and I can brush it off because (unfortunately) I expect it. But something about how I had been ready to have a perfectly polite exchange of greeting but instead received a crude comment about my body was especially disheartening, and it ruined my afternoon and made me extremely self-conscious.

Submitted on 7/3/12 by “MK”

Do you have a personal experience with gender-based public sexual harassment or assault? Submit your story to help raise awareness about the pervasiveness and harmful effects of street harassment. All submissions are posted anonymously unless otherwise specified.

When to Step Up? Experts Advise How to Diffuse Troubling Situations

Image courtesy Daily News Record.

By Samantha Cole
Rocktown Weekly (Harrisonburg, VA)
Friday, June 29, 2012

Republished by CASS with permission from the author.

Emily Benner took a step toward the noisy group of men on the train, just as one began to unbuckle his pants.

“Hi! Can I sit down?” she recalls asking after a few tense moments. Her audience, a D.C.

Metro car full of passengers, was rapt. Benner — unassuming in stature, in her mid-20s with naturally blonde hair and an Eastern Mennonite University graduate — might have garnered the men’s attention if she’d instead blown the whistle clipped to her backpack.But, her soft words held their attention arguably better.

After a short exchange, sharing a laugh about turning their friend in, she drove her point home. “I have to tell you, as a woman, watching you make sexual gestures at someone out the window was very threatening to me.”Simple words delivered genuinely are often the key to intervening in intense situations, area experts agree. Whether a parent is berating a child in the grocery store or the customer at the checkout is attacking the clerk, when is it right — or safe — to intervene?

Bystander roles

“Bad things do happen,” says Barry Hart, Academic Director at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. “Things occur that are not healthy, but many people take a risk to say, ‘We are a community; how can we be a better community?’ ”

He outlines four “bystander roles,” attributed to colleague Kaethe Weingarten:

  1. You are a bystander who is oblivious to what’s happening,
  2. You’re aware of what’s happening, but don’t know what to do,
  3. You’re aware, but intervene in an inappropriate way,
  4. You feel confident enough under the circumstances to take potentially helpful action.

Frequently, Benner has crossed from passive to active roles (her spontaneous intervention experience includes stopping a bike theft, a man chasing a woman, breaking up a drunken fight and confronting a group of men when they harassed her friend), using techniques she has learned from Marty Langelan, a D.C.-based expert in the field of assault.

Langelan regularly teaches safety workshops at community organizations, including EMU’s Washington Community Scholars’ Center, where Benner serves as assistant director.

The insecurity most onlookers feel in the face of wrongdoing often keeps them stuck at the second stage. “I go by my gut,” Langelan says. “Trust your instincts.”

She and Hart believe that bystanders themselves don’t walk away from a violent situation unscathed. “There’s the issue of how sickening it feels, inside, when we see an abusive situation, but feel helpless to stop it,” Langelan explains. “In a very real sense, bystanders are harmed by seeing something wrong and doing nothing. That’s called a ‘moral injury.’ ”

Even after standing up for others many times, Benner still regrets the times she froze. Recently, when a customer threatened a cashier, she felt helpless. “I wish I had called the police, or maybe asked him to repeat [himself],” she remembers.

“Shock and shutdown” is a normal first reaction, Langelan assures.

Hart agrees; it’s a matter of being prepared with the right responses, “like anything in life,” he says.

Potential danger

After sitting in on several of Langelan’s workshops, Benner found herself mentally rehearsing crises, “forming neural pathways so they’re there when I need them,” she says.

Which situation-appropriate actions was Benner preparing to take?

Hart and Langelan suggest that in potentially dangerous situations, simply creating a distraction can break the cycle of violence. This can be applied to situations involving harassment or physical violence.

Langelan calls it the “voice of God” technique: a short, crisp command to stop, from a safe distance — she recommends at least 30 feet — that breaks their focus.

Hart recently used this approach right outside his office. When he saw a man viciously attacking another man, he thought, “This is not good. I need to do something.”

As he exited the building, Hart’s mind was rapidly recalling prior training. He asked a coworker to call the police, then stepped outside.

From a distance, he commanded, “Stop that, stop that!” he says. “It was enough of a shocker to them that they both looked up, and ran off in different directions.”

“Leave your cape at home,” urges Langelan. Don’t jump in the middle of violence to be a hero; even taking out your cell phone to snap a photo of the incident can be helpful to authorities. “The privacy stops when the violence starts … it’s something that affects the whole community.”

Blurred lines

In less blatantly violent situations, such as verbal abuse or mistreatment, the lines between right and wrong can be blurry for a bystander.

Nearly everyone has encountered a similar situation: the exhausted parent doling out unduly harsh discipline, or the diner disrespecting waitstaff.

Hart lays out two options: interject directly, or distract and diffuse.

But first, assess. “When these things happen, everybody’s emotional,” he notes. “You are also impacted by the emotion … this is when a quick analysis can be done.”

He gives the example of a store clerk berated by a customer. Approaching the offender — whose own background carries reasons for the behavior — risks their turning on you.

The second option is to show the cashier concern and respect, acknowledging what just happened rather than turning a blind eye.

Drawing attention might seem embarrassing or feel outside of one’s comfort zone, but when Benner merely made her presence known on the Metro, it opened an opportunity for real discussion. “They looked sympathetic as they nodded and just let me talk,” she says.

Langelan says that non-judgmental approaches are key, with women’s presence being especially dynamic-changing. “A woman who quietly walks up and says, ‘Whoa, what’s the matter here? How can I help?’ diffuses it just by her presence and body language.”

For her, seeing children being struck by parents especially hits home. She also considers public humiliation a form of violence.

“When kids get hit, it’s because the parent is out of control,” she says.

Interrupt the scenario with what she deems the “praise the baby” technique: in your most cheerful voice, compliment something visible about the child, such as, “What a cute toddler! Look at those sneakers!”

“It penetrates all those emotions” the frazzled adult is feeling mid-breakdown, she says.

Drawing on surrounding witnesses is another option to distract and diffuse, says Hart. “Ask people around you, ‘How can we help?’ That may be embarrassing, but I don’t think so. Most people would say a parent hurting a child or screaming at a child is wrong.”

Building safer communities

Although the streets of Harrisonburg are relatively tame, Hart, Langelan and Benner vouch for the universal value of communities where eyes and ears are open.

“Violence breaks the common bond of humanity,” Hart says. “It’s there for a reason. It happens because people have been violated themselves, in small and big ways.”

Langelan encourages more connections, especially with otherwise-overlooked members of society. “One of the simplest ways to make any neighborhood safer is to talk to people on the street,” she says. “Nodding, saying hello … it makes such a difference when people do start speaking up.”

As the train came to her stop that day, fellow passengers high-fived and thanked her for stepping in before the situation escalated.

“Sometimes people advise me to stop intervening, because it’s putting myself in danger,” Benner says. “But I feel like that’s a pretty narrow view … I’m not the center of the universe. If I encourage a culture of people speaking up for each other … then it’s a safer community for me, too.”






  • Have you ever intervened as a bystander?
  • Have you been in a situation where a bystander helped you?
  • What about a situation where you WISH a bystander had helped you?
  • Let us know in the comments!
1 2