Metro attacks sexual harassment with “off limits” campaign

This morning's media event in Union Station to promote Metro's anti-sexual harassment campaign. Photo by Luis Inzunza/Metro.

This morning’s media event in Union Station to promote Metro’s anti-sexual harassment campaign. At the podium is Metro Board Member Jacquelyne Dupont-Walker flanked by Metro Board Members Mark Ridley-Thomas, Michael D. Antonovich, Ara Najarian and Sheila Kuehl. Photo by Luis Inzunza/Metro.

This has been an issue since 2013 when Metro began asking customers about sexual harassment on its annual rider survey. The question was asked again in the 2014 survey: specifically, riders were asked “Have you experienced any unwanted sexual behavior including, but not limited to: touching, exposure or inappropriate comments?”

Twenty two percent of bus and rail riders answered ‘yes.’ That has generated a lot of media attention — which is fine — although it’s worth noting that sexual harassment is one of many issues not confined to transit.

In response to the surveys, Metro has launched a campaign to crack down on sexual harassment. As part of that, Metro held a media event at Union Station this morning to promote a new awareness campaign.

Bottom line: Metro is asking customers “to report incidents to the Sheriff’s hotline at 888-950-SAFE (7233) or the LA Metro Transit Watch smartphone app for iPhone and Android so law enforcement can investigate and arrest perpetrators.” The app has been upgraded to include reports for “Indecent Exposure,” “Sexual Assault-Physical” and “Sexual Harassment-Non-Physical.”

Important note here: Metro isn’t just asking customers who feel they’re victims of harassment to contact deputies. If you’re a witness, please report anything you see.

Other transit agencies around the world have also tried to tackle the issue. Perhaps most notable among American agencies is the MBTA, whose buses and trains serve the Boston area. Here is one of their posters that has been used on their system:

MBTA_AntiSexual Assualt_Campaign

Here is a new PSA from Metro (there’s also a Spanish version):

And here is the news release from Metro:

Declaring that sexual harassment is “off limits,” the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) and the sexual and domestic violence prevention center, Peace Over Violence, today launch a multi-faceted campaign to stop harassment on Metro buses and trains.

The Metro system is safe with 1.4 million boardings on a typical weekday and a rate of three serious crimes per one million boardings. However, Metro has learned through its semi-annual Customer Satisfaction Survey that in a six-month period an unacceptably high percentage of riders reported experiencing unwanted sexual behavior including, but not limited to, touching, exposure or inappropriate comments. The majority of incidents involved men harassing women, however, girls, boys and men also reported being harassed.

“Metro customers deserve to travel in a safe environment free from harassment,” said Los Angeles Mayor and Metro Board Chair Eric Garcetti. “Metro wants riders to know that unwanted sexual behavior will not be tolerated on its buses and trains, and help and support is available to victims of harassment.”

Metro is one of the few transit providers in the world that surveys its customers on sexual harassment and the latest results indicate 22 percent of respondents said they had experienced sexual harassment. Despite that high percentage, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) Transit Policing Division (TPD), which patrols the Metro system, received only 99 official reports of unwanted sexual conduct involving exposure, touching or inappropriate comments in 2014.         

“That rate of reporting is woefully low and indicates that transit customers do not have faith that such behavior can be addressed,” said Metro Board member and Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

In response to the latest data, Metro has joined with Peace Over Violence, an organization dedicated to ending sexual, domestic and interpersonal violence, to launch “It’s Off Limits,” a system-wide campaign that identifies sexual harassment as unwanted touching, comments and gestures and makes it clear that such behavior is unacceptable. Bus and train printed advertisements encourage passengers “if you experience it or see it – report it. Call 1.888-950-SAFE.”

“April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and we have chosen this time to launch an aggressive effort to halt incidents of sexual harassment on the public transportation system,” said Supervisor and Metro Board member Mark Ridley-Thomas.

“Perpetrators of sexual crimes often continue their assaults if they are not caught, sometimes becoming bolder and violent,” said Peace Over Violence Executive Director Patti Giggans. “Reporting the crime means the assaulter can be caught before he victimizes other innocent women and girls.”

Passengers are encouraged to report incidents to the Sheriff’s hotline at 1.888.950.SAFE (7233) or 911.

“Keeping the system safe is our top priority. We have the tools to catch sexual harassers and put them in jail,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor and Metro Board member Michael Antonovich. “We need our riders to take an active role to look after each other and keep the Metro system as safe as possible.”

As part of the system-wide campaign, Metro upgraded its smartphone app, LA Metro Transit Watch, to include a report of “Indecent Exposure,” “Sexual Assault-Physical” and “Sexual Harassment-Non-Physical.” LA Metro Transit Watch has a feature allowing a reporting person to snap a photograph of a suspect safely without activating the camera’s flash. More than 80 percent of Metro riders carry cellular telephones and about half of Metro passengers have smartphones.

“With a description of the suspect and the time and place of the assault, Sheriff’s investigators have a better opportunity to make an arrest of a sexual criminal,” said TPD Chief Ronine Anda.

”The very nature of sexual harassment is hidden,” said Metro Board Jacquelyn DuPont-Walker. “Harassers usually victimize people when Sheriff’s deputies and Metro staff are nowhere to be seen. But it might be done in plain view of other passengers. That’s why we need the help of all riders to make reports.”

In coordination with LASD, Metro has begun training all front-line personnel, bus and train operators, maintenance and custodial personnel, in a procedure to help victims who want to make a report.   

To further expand the message of reporting sexual harassment, Metro has produced a 30 second Public Service Announcement entitled “It’s Off Limits,” which will be shown online and submitted to Los Angeles television stations.   

In launching the campaign, the Metro Board authorized a multi-departmental Safe Space Task Force comprised of Metro departments to attack sexual assault on the system, a Community Roundtable to better connect Metro with its customers and to inform them of responses to the issue, a review of national best practices recognized by the American Public Transportation Association, update Metro’s Customer Code of Conduct to explicitly prohibit unwanted sexual attention and identity-based harassment and partner with appropriate local agencies to provide non-law enforcement support for victims.