Council gets MTA update on subway grope reports

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It occurs mostly when subway cars are packed to capacity with morning or evening straphangers, but for many women the worst thing is not the congestion but the unwelcome pat, squeeze, grope or worse.

The decades-old problem came under discussion last week at a City Hall public hearing conducted by the City Council Committees on Transportation, Women’s Issues and Public Safety.

“It’s the No. 1 quality-of-life offense in the subway,” said James Hall, chief of the Police Department Transit Bureau. “This should not be part of commuting in New York City.”

Hall said reports of sexual abuse, including touching, flashing and lewdness, had increased by 4 percent in the past year and that 412 people, including 71 with records for this type of crime, had been arrested for sexual acts aboard trains.

Hall said police believe a large percentage of victims never report such incidents, perhaps because of embarrassment or the belief it is futile.

Several women told the committees that, in some cases, they had found a lack of concern when they reported such incidents to police.

Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), chairman of the Transportation Committee, objected to Hall’s use of the phrase “quality of life.”

“It’s an issue of safety,” Liu said, “the safety of women in the subway.”

“There is a clamor for more enforcement, more prevention, for this type of criminal behavior on subways,” Liu said.

Hall said such offenses were most frequent between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. and between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., with the epicenter of such acts aboard the Lexington Avenue Nos. 4, 5 and 6 trains running between Grand Central Terminal and Union Square, a distance of just over a mile.

Police said 74 percent of such offenses occur inside subway cars as opposed to station platforms and 64 percent of complaints are in Manhattan.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at or phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 136.

Updated 6:31 pm, October 10, 2011
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