Exactly two weeks after several people in Washington, DC, gave public testimony about sexual harassment on the DC transit system and offered recommendations, WMATA has swiftly taken steps to make our recommendations happen!
Chai Shenoy, co-founder of Collective Action for Safe Spaces/Holla Back DC!, CASS board member Ben Merrion, and I learned about these initiatives yesterday. First we met with Ward 4 City Councilmember Muriel Bowser and two hours later, we met with about 10 staff at WMATA.
When we went into the meeting with WMATA, we had low expectations. In the days leading up to the hearing, WMATA said statements like, “one person’s harassment is another person’s flirting” and had given the impression that they thought sexual offenses weren’t a big deal. We were pleasantly surprised by what they had to say.
On the eve of International Women’s Day (ahem, yesterday), we met with Council Member Bowser and WMATA in two separate meetings. It was a day of follow-up meetings. We were interested to know if CM Bowser had heard back from WMATA. We were also curious as to what, if anything, WMATA was planning on doing to address our concerns about public sexual harassment and assault on the transit system.
CM Bowser expressed her commitment to push WMATA to do something, at minimum the public service awareness campaign and trainings. We talked to her about our concerns about the gap in law where in DC police (not true in MD/VA) have to see someone committing a misdemeanor to arrest them. This affects individuals who report indecent exposure, public masturbation, etc. Unless the cops see it, nothing can happen. Even if the person took a picture of the perpetrator in action. It’s essentially a free pass to perpetrators: Come to DC! Yikes. CM Bowser wants to address this issue and is figuring out ways to do so.
After that meeting, we had a lunch break. Thank goodness for the great weather yesterday that kept us company.
As we walked over the WMATA headquarters for our 2P meeting, we kept wondering outloud what WMATA would share with us. We were escorted to a conference room where some Senior level WMATA officials were sitting including Lynn Bowersox (Director of Communications), Dan Stessel (Chief Spokesperson), Regina Sullivan (Director of Government Relations), Michael Taborn (Chief of Transit Police), and others.
After an hour and half, we walked away with WMATA pledging to do a public service awareness campaign, launching as soon as April, technology upgrades to include a webportal for individuals to submit their experiences with harassment and assault, a newly dedicated email address on this issue (where people can upload pics/video), new trainings to ALL staff, and quarterly data reports on harassment and sex crimes.
Yeah, you read that correctly.
Data collection on harassment and sex crimes.
A dedicated email address and webportal (and specialized hashtag and possibly other techie things).
More & better trainings.
YEAH. yeah. yeAH!
You did it. Your tenacity to share stories of harassment and assault everywhere, including those that happen on the metro, is creating a culture of change in the nation’s 2nd largest transit system. That is big, really boombastic B.I.G.
Of course, our work isn’t done (this is not a Mission Accomplished moment). They have to launch it. It has to succeed. But, instead of being critical, let’s pause and celebrate this first step.
Have a glass of wine, bubbly water, beer or two in celebration of this on International Women’s Day.
Chai, your humble servant.
P.S. Feel moved and want to get involved? Shoot us an email at info at collectiveactiondc.org.
You can also donate to CASS. Right now, our work is unpaid, volunteer driven. We took time off from work to attend the meetings and testify at the hearing, but we could do so much more with funds to hire at least one staff person to work on these issues full time.
This is HUGE news.
I am really proud of our city. Many people do not take these issues seriously so I applaud WMATA and also Councilmember Bowser (she’s up for re-election – vote for her if you can!) and her staff for listening to our testimonies, taking our concerns seriously, and then immediately taking action. They plan to include CASS and Stop Street Harassment in the whole process so we can have input on messaging and implementation, which of course is key. Come to a forum with Metro on March 22, 5:30 p.m. at AAUW, 1111 Sixteenth St, NW, Washington, DC, and share your thoughts with them, too.
WMATA is now on target to be the nation’s leader for addressing sexual harassment on the transit system and they hope to be a model for transit systems across the country.
And, as Chai mentions, WMATA’s decision to address this issue is in great part because of all of the people who shared their harassment stories at the hearing and on the CASS blog over the last three years and also thanks to the two dozen people who wrote to WMATA after the hearing to share their stories. Having media coverage highlighting our concerns from the Washington Post, ABC news, and WAMA didn’t hurt either.
Stay tuned for more updates on our progress. And please be in touch if you want to see something happen in your city. We’re happy to chat and offer advice.