Like many major public transit systems, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority has a sexual harassment problem. According to a 2015 survey conducted by the authority (also known as Metro), one in every 14 Los Angeles public transit passengers has been fondled or groped on a city train or bus. In response to these sobering results, Metro launched a campaign called “It’s Off Limits,” and plastered posters on buses and train cars encouraging anyone who’s experienced or witnessed sexual harassment to report the incident to authorities.
In a press conference on Wednesday, Metro CEO Phil Washington said that the number of passengers who reported sexual harassment on public transit decreased from 22 percent in 2015 to 15 percent. (It’s worth noting, of course, that many sexual crimes go unreported, so these statistics are not necessarily an exact reflection of how many incidents have taken place.)
Now, Metro is taking the campaign step further by launching a 24/7 “It’s Off Limits” counseling hotline for anyone who has experienced sexual assault or harassment on L.A. public transportation. The pilot program is the first of its kind in the nation, and will be staffed by Peace Over Violence, an L.A. nonprofit that has worked with survivors of sexual violence for decades. When callers dial in, they’ll be offered emotional support and will be given the option to report their experience.
“If they need that moral support, that psychological support, they want to talk about it, they want to unload it and debrief, they should call the hotline,” Peace Over Violence executive director Patti Giggans said at the press conference. Giggans added that survivors may need support in processing their experience before they’re ready to report to authorities, and may benefit from guidance in the aftermath of the incident. “A victim of sexual harassment on a bus or train might have to encounter their harasser on a daily basis while traveling to work or school. We want victims to make reports and also have the resources they need to recover in a healthy way.”
Not much concrete data exists on the prevalence of sexual harassment on public transit, but a survey of New York City subway riders in 2007 found that almost two-thirds of participants had been sexually harassed on the subway, and that 69 percent felt sexually threatened in transit. A 2000 study found that 87 percent of women between the ages of 18-24 had experienced street harassment. The fact that harassment is so tragically common is just one symptom of a larger culture of sexual violence, in which an American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds.
If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted on public transit in Los Angeles, you can call 1-844-Off-Limits (633-5464) for advice, support, and assistance in reporting the incident. If you experience harassment on public transportation in other U.S. cities, see if your local transit authority provides reporting options via the internet or phone. (New York City does, as do most other major city transit organizations.) If you feel safe doing so, consider reporting the incident to a transit authority employee on the premises or to local transit police.
While it will take some time to see how beneficial the “It’s Off Limits” hotline pans out to be in terms of providing support, it certainly sounds like a positive step. Perhaps other communities should consider following L.A.’s lead.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or the RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.
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