Back in 2007, then-Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer conducted an online questionnaire survey on sexual harassment& on the Subway.
The questionnaire garnered close to 1,800 responses. Almost two-thirds of the respondents identified as women. Among the entire set of respondents as well, two-thirds said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment, and about one-tenth said they had experienced sexual assault. Almost everyone who answered said they had at least felt a threat of some form of harassment.
Seven years have passed since that survey was conducted, with pleas to electeds for better solutions to tackle the problem continually to pouring in.
One such politician leading the charge is Assemblyman Joe Lentol, who is set to reintroduce a bill in the upcoming legislative session aiming to increase the severity of punishment for forcibly touching others in crowded, enclosed spaces like the subway or places where it is deemed unavoidable.
The new bill seeks to add an additional explanation to the existing understanding of forcible touching in the penal law, defining it as an action where an, “actor intentionally selected, for such act or acts, a location that made it difficult or impossible for the victim to avoid such touching or sexual contact.”
The bill will also increase the punishment from a Class B Misdemeanor to a Class A Misdemeanor, which mandates one year of jail-time and the same time in probation, and will require individuals convicted of forcible touching to register as sex offenders.
“Increasing the punishment for this lewd behavior will certainly serve to protect individuals on subways and deter individuals who may consider this heinous act,” said Lentol. “There is no reason someone should be subjected to this type of behavior, especially when it is unavoidable in the tight quarters of a crowded subway car. And if this behavior is indeed a predictor of future behavior, these individuals will be tracked by law enforcement authorities.”
Hollaback!, a leading activist organization known for its work to end street harassment and harassment in public spaces has commended Lentol for raising his voice about this form of harassment, but disagreed with him in the matter of increasing punishment.
“We’re really grateful for Assemblyman Lentol’s support in this hugely important issue, but increasing punishment doesn’t always have a meaningful impact and increasingly tends to target minorities,” said Emily May, Executive Director and co-founder of Hollaback! “We want to see more bystander initiatives and more public service announcements. We need to be able to look hard and look outside the box.”
In response Lentol agreed that education and raising awareness was key, but also stressed on law as a means of prevention.
“Preventing the crime of subway grinding requires a multi-pronged approach,” he said. “Education is very important to make riders aware of the issue. Coupled with educational announcements and media campaigns, there must be information for potential perpetrators making it clear that this is a serious offense punishable by imprisonment – if you grind, you can get time.”