On Monday, Tovia Smith reported for All Things Considered about Boston’s campaign to crack down on people groping other people on the subway. Not riding the train regularly myself (because we can’t get our transportation act together enough to actually build a rail system) I’m still well aware of the normal “ick” factor of using public transit when it’s really full. You’re squished up next to other people, some of whom clearly need a post-work shower, others who are perfectly nice but just not the person you’d want to snuggle up with on in a normal situation. On top of that, you have to keep from falling while the train moves, and maneuver your way to the doorway in time to get out at your station.
Still, trains are awesome and I’d kill for a subway system here like the one in Tokyo. The hotel where J and I stay whenever we go there is right next to Shinjuku station, the busiest train station in the world, where they hire men in white gloves to push passengers into the cars in order to maximize space at rush hour. Being an American, and especially travelling around Japan with a very tall husband (or my equally tall co-workers), I can usually stand near them and enjoy the little circle of privacy that forms. But a few years ago, one of my Japanese colleagues told me, quite matter-of-factly, that she regularly travels with a pair of scissors so that when men try to grope her she can poke them and make them stop. I was horrified, both at the fact that she regularly gets groped and that she casually talked about jabbing a sharp object into people to stop them, and assumed this was a strange Japanese cultural thing. Apparently I was wrong.
The Boston crackdown effort, which consists of signs warning people that they’re being watched and encouraging women to report incidents, as well as sending out decoys to try to lure flashers and gropers, has been successful in raising the number of arrests and filed complaints for sex assaults. If nothing else, I hope that it makes it clear that being groped shouldn’t just be accepted as a necessary evil of using mass transit. There are going to be bad people out there, but that surely we can find a solution that doesn’t mean we have to start carrying pointed objects in our pockets at all times. That would be a definite “ick”.