New York is a leader in the legislative fight against sexual harassment in the subways, and its newest proposition is a law that aims to upgrade unwanted sexual contact from a misdemeanor to a felony. The escalation also turns "sexually motivated touching" into a sex crime with the possibility of jail time. I applaud lawmakers' effort to address this critical issue, but I am not convinced that harsher punishments for sexual harassment on the subway will yield the desired effect.
The most lamentable aspect of taking public transportation as a woman is enduring the unsavory boys and men who exploit the shared space and put our safety in jeopardy. Masturbation, sexual assault, rape andwhatever you call what this guy was doing are the more invasive (not to mention illegal) behaviors that disrupt our journeys. Women understand that most men don't engage in this brand of sexual violence, and we applaud the many men who take action to disrupt this injustice when it occurs. But the number of guys who are doing these things is sizable enough to make most women suspicious and uneasy during our commutes.
Subway harassment isn't only a problem for women in New York City: Boston, Chicago and, recently, Washington, DC have all implemented ad campaigns to raise awareness about the issue and encourage riders to report incidents. And across the globe in Beijing, a furious debate erupted in August after the Shanghai No 2 Metro Operation Company issued a public statement blaming harassment on women who wear sexy clothing. Transportation in cities in Egypt, Japan and India have women-only sections, where the hope is that separation might actually equal increased public safety. Still, the problem persists across cultures and national borders.