Earlier this month, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) announced a new way for riders to contact the metro police department: via text.
"Through this new service," according to the statement, "Metro riders can now use their cell phones to text information about suspicious activity, unattended bags, panhandling and other non-emergencies." Riders are encouraged to include as much information as possible, including particular stations, details of the incident, and a description of persons of interest, if applicable.
This includes incidents of sexual harassment.
Last year, WMATA unveiled an anti-sexual harassment ad campaign throughout its system to inform the public that they can report sexual harassment on the metro via phone, email, or online portal. With the addition of this texting service, WMATA has increased its ability to track patterns of harassment that occur throughout the metro system, whether they occur inside a station or at a bus stop, on an actual train or bus, or while using the MetroAccess service (a service for people with disabilities). Notably, WMATA offers the most reporting options of any transit system in the country for this type of harassment.
While these reported individual incidents may not be resolved (though WMATA does follow-up to all reports within 24 hours), tracking them could lead to greater monitoring of the area and eventually create safer spaces with fewer or no harassers. WMATA is also finalizing a training program for all of its 3000 frontline employees so they will be able to appropriately respond when people report incidents to them in person.
These reporting tools and locations of reportable harassment were discussed at a recent street harassment-focused discussion group for gay men in D.C. Many of the men were surprised to learn that these tools were applicable to their experiences, since the advertisements they commonly see depict female subjects being harassed.
And this thought process is common among men who experience various forms of harassment or violence -- they view victimization as inconsistent with their male identity. Even though they may know that what they are experiencing is harassment, in my view -- and according to the men who participated in this group -- having a visual to assure them that their experiences are valid and reportable could make a huge difference. We need portrayals of potential harassment situations to account for the narratives of everyone.
Some men at the discussion group also didn't know where reporting was allowed. One participant who frequently experiences harassment at his bus stop was unaware that he could report harassment at that location, which is in fact an option on WMATA's reporting page. This is important to know because, at least for him, his bus stop is directly outside of his home and impossible to avoid.
It's critical for everyone to know where they can report harassment -- and how to do it -- so that the service works optimally for everyone in the metropolitan area. And as WMATA continues to increase its efforts to combat sexual harassment throughout the system, it is paramount that everyone knows the services -- including the new texting option -- are there for them, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, religion, or disability.
To report harassment or view WMATA's online portal, visit wmata.com/harassment.