Metro receives 99 harassment complaints in 2012

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Local,Transportation,Liz Essley,Metro

Nine months after launching a campaign to stop sexual harassment of its passengers, Metro has heard 99 additional complaints from riders who said they were mistreated on the trains.

But the complaints directly resulted in only one arrest, and some women's advocates say the transit agency has still not adequately addressed the problem.

Metro's new web portal and email address for reports of sexual harassment received the complaints through the end of 2012. They resulted in 22 formal police reports of crimes and one arrest, according to a new safety report due to be presented to Metro's board Thursday. And Metro Transit Police saw 14 other sexual crimes themselves and charged suspects with sexual assault or indecent exposure.

Metro launched the web portal and email address in March, followed by posters with the message "Rub Against Me and I'll Expose You" in April.

Metro Transit Police arrested Robert Lee Scott Jr., 48, of Capitol Heights in July, after getting a report of Scott masturbating on a train at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. He matched the description of a man from an incident the day before at Foggy Bottom, reported online.

Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said agency detectives interview everyone who complains, even if the victims do not want to file a formal police report, which requires the victim to give his or her name. Fifty-two of Metro's complaints were determined to be related to sexual crimes; nine were nonsexual crimes; 38 were counted as harassment.

"Some people who have contacted us through the online form just want to make us aware of something," he said. "In some cases, what they're reporting is criminal in nature, but they don't want to file a police report."

Metro's 99 complaints do not include those reported on the phone or in person to station managers. Those numbers were not part of Metro's new report and were not available Tuesday.

"This is our first year. By doing this now, we'll have a benchmark. This is why we were really interested to see these numbers," said Metro spokeswoman Caroline Lukas.

But Metro hasn't dedicated any personnel or large dollar amounts to the anti-harassment effort. Lukas said the complaints are added to a Metro detectives' normal caseload. And Metro paid only to print the harassment posters -- a Boston transit agency agreed to license the campaign to Metro at no cost.

Activist Chai Shenoy, co-founder of the anti-harassment group Collective Action for Safe Spaces, said she would like Metro to do more and that her group often hears of people who complained to Metro employees, only to get little or no response.

"I really would like [Metro] to dedicate more resources, and really train up their employees, from people who do customer service to train conductors to employees in the stations. Everybody needs to be trained on how to address complaints of sexual assault and sexual harassment. I think there's a lot more that needs to be done."

Metro's efforts this year followed complaints from riders, who testified before the D.C. Council about being groped and witnessing masturbating men on trains. Metro pledged to address the problem, though only after a spokesman told one news outlet that "one person's harassment is another person's flirting." Metro then met with activists and set up the email and web portal.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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Liz Essley

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner