This afternoon outside the Gallery Place/Chinatown metro station entrance in Washington, DC, wearing teal “M” pins for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) staff (including the General Manager and several transit police officers) joined volunteers from Collective Action for Safe Spaces (CASS), the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, and the DC Rape Crisis Center. We all handed out brand new fliers to passersby as part of the official launch of WMATA’s anti-sexual harassment campaign (the flier was the image on the right).
There were about ten of us who passed out the fliers for an hour to regular commuters and tourists alike. Some women eagerly grabbed the fliers when they heard about the campaign. Many men took fliers too and one man told me it was a disgrace that harassment happened. I overhead one young woman who’d picked up a flier from someone else but was passing by me say to her friend, “Oh my gosh! Finally someone is doing something about this. I deal with this all the time.” And of course, many people refused fliers before we could even tell them what it was about, but thankfully, no one was rude or harassed us.
I have to say, I am floored. I tracked the launches of the anti-sexual harassment campaigns in Boston, New York City and Chicago on my blog, and WMATA’s efforts stand out for their fast pace and thoroughness.
It was fewer than six weeks ago that six members of the public and board members of CASS testified before the DC City Council about sexual harassment on the DC-area transit system. We were nervous and felt we had to be on the defensive and explain why this issue matters, especially after we heard some of the soundbites WMATA gave the media which made it sound like they didn’t care about the issue. We didn’t have much hope that anything would come out of our testimonies, not even when WMATA said they would do something immediately. We feared that was just lip service. But then they invited us to a meeting at their offices two weeks later.
On March 7, three CASS board members met with WMATA and they gave us an overview of their campaign plans and we were blown away how responsive they were, how comprehensive their plans were, and how it had only been two weeks since we’d given testimony!
In March they quietly released a new webpage and email address (email@example.com) where people can report sexual harassment – including, for the first time, verbal harassment. The fliers we handed out today inform people about the new ways to report harassment. Additionally, a PSA ad campaign will roll out soon and WMATA is finalizing a new training video for their employees. To make the issue more accessible, the training video includes the harassment stories of several members of the public who agreed to be filmed during The REAL Metro Forum, held during International Anti-Street Harassment Week.
The WMATA task force for this issue has been great to work with, especially the project lead Caroline Lukas. They’ve treated the issue with the gravity it deserves and have asked for input throughout the process. They have obviously made the issue a top priority if they were able to launch their campaign so soon after we brought the issue to their attention. It’s also refreshing to hear them acknowledge that it will take time to get the word out and then even more time to track the effectiveness of the campaign. Caroline has assured us WMATA is in this for the long haul.
If you’re in the DC-area or know anyone who is, spread the word about the new campaign and encourage them to report anything they experience or see. Help WMATA track the problem so that they can then more effectively address it. Social change doesn’t happen overnight, but it certainly has a chance of happening faster with the help of a major institution like WMATA. Thanks, WMATA.