Documenting stories of women and men who have been sexually assaulted and harassed within public spaces.
These are their stories:
“My name is Sayema and I work as a math teacher for eighth grade. I remember like it happened yesterday. This boy comes on the metro train with me and he sits behind one of those glass panels. I am sitting there and all of a sudden, I see him moving. I thought he was mixing lemonade in a bottle. I looked in the reflection and you can see everything in the window. I see that he took his pants off and was jacking off and was looking right at me. I froze and couldn’t even process what was happening. I was praying that he wouldn’t come towards me. He finished. Wiped his hands on the seat. Pulled his pants up and then walked out. I remember sitting there not believing what just happened. He never touched me, but I never had felt so violated before in my life. I am not a magazine.” -Sayema
"I went to work on September 11th in Midtown. I remember all of us going outside and I could see straight down Fifth Avenue… and there was a mushroom cloud. I finally made it off the island of Manhattan on one of the few F trains running to Brooklyn. As we crossed the water, I felt something brush the inside of my leg underneath my skirt. I must be mistaken, I thought, on today of all days. Today, how could anyone possibly have anything like that on their minds? When I felt it again, I turned around and gave the folks directly behind me a scowl face. We were in there so tightly, it could have been any one of them. But not this time - nope, as soon as I turned back around I felt those nasty fingers creeping up and I turned back around with a loud "Excuse me" aimed at the dude directly behind me. Trying to relatively keep my cool. I mean, people were falling out of buildings at that exact moment. Let's keep perspective, right?" -Nina Part 1 (Woolwich, Maine)
"Just before the train pulled into its first Brooklyn stop, it happened again under my skirt. Clearly it was intentional because it was the third time that it happened. I turned around and said, 'Get your hands off of me!' He ran off the train, saying that he didn't do anything. I must have sounded and looked terrifying, because the rest of the folks around me all shrunk away. There wasn't even any available space to shrink into but somehow they did, and a gentleman said 'Give her some space.' I remember standing there, gripping that pole in my heels, having just escaped my temp job where I thought I might have to spend the night sleeping under my desk next to the smell of my half-eaten Reuben, somehow radiating enough anger that a train full of already terrified and sardined Brooklynites were giving me a 2 foot margin in all directions. How dumb. How gross. How unfortunate that the strong memory of that day threatens to supersede the other 99% of folks I interacted with on that day in strength, compassion, and solidarity. I try my best to remember those people instead. They are the true potential of what humanity has to offer." -Nina Part 2 (Woolwich, Maine)
“I was on my way to school one morning in 11th grade, floating in a morning daze aboard the same train I took every morning for six years beginning at age 13. I had been riding the subway alone since I was 12 and rarely feared for my safety -- the city and its tangled grid of subways that may be intimidated to many had been home for my entire life. It was early spring, and I was pushed up against the double doors of a crowded 4 train. My backpack sat at my feet to create a few more inches of space between myself the hundreds of commuters I shared my mornings with, my headphones were wedged deep in my ears to block them out. In my sleepy haze, I reviewed the assignments I had yet to complete for my afternoon classes, my weekend plans, and my upcoming final presentation for my English class. As my mental checklist grew in length, I noticed something pressing against my pelvis. When the pressure became more concentrated I realized this was not a normal morning commute occurrence. I became alert and as I looked up, made eye contact with the man I was standing face to face with. He grinned at me as he moved his hand under my dress. I was trapped in a dense crowd of unconcerned strangers and racing through a 27 block span of underground tunnel, being groped by a man who bared his coffee-stained teeth and narrowed his beady eyes at me as I stared back at him, face and voice frozen. As I tried in vain to contort my body out of his reach, I endured this violation, swallowing shame and hating myself for wearing a dress short enough to have invited this interaction. The train screeched into 86th street after what felt like an eternity and I sped out of the car and up the stairs, my heart racing and my breathing labored. I stepped onto the next train shaking. My body had been subject to verbal and physical harassment for half a decade, my height conveniently disguising me as old enough to be on the receiving end of such attention since I turned 12, but I had never been so shaken, so blatantly violated like this."
"I was on my way home from a volleyball game from DuPont. I had sweatpants on and was sweaty. It was a pretty full metro car and I was standing. This man kept tapping me on my shoulder. I removed one headphone. He stated, "Hey do you want to suck my toes?" I looked down at his feet and he had long disgusting toenails. I put my headphones back on and tried not to engage. Then he tugged on my shirt and he said, "Where are you coming from? Are you coming from the gym? Were there naked girls at the gym?" There was a man sitting next to him and who heard everything. Rather than saying anything, he averted his eyes, moved down the car and left me alone with this man." -Emily
"He asked me again if I wanted to suck on his toes. At this point I was starting to get scared. I texted my fiancé to meet me at the metro station. He tugged on my shirt again. He said, "What station are you getting off at? Do you think I am following you? What if I was following you?" At this point I am panicking. He knew what my fear was." -Emily
Rev. Dawn Sanders
"I was on the metro when…a man next to me made a comment about my dress. In that moment, you are thinking that is odd, but I didn't really think anything after that. The metro car started to empty out. I remember feeling intuitively "Am I safe?". Out of the corner of my eye the man had exposed himself and was masturbating. I realized what was happening and I ran to the call box at the far end of the metro car. In that moment, he began chasing me. He started screaming at me and was extremely irate. One man got up on the metro and blocked the man and I. I become more frantic because he couldn't hear or understand what I was saying. The man was getting more irritate at this point, so I started banging on the window to get the attention of someone else in the car. That felt like eternity. Because the windows are soundproof no one could hear me, there was a woman at the far end who saw me. The train is still moving, the man is still yelling and, and I am hysterical. All of this is happening while the train is in motion. The train opened, and the man ran away. The train conductor came and looked. He didn't say anything to me, it was almost as if it didn't happen. I went and talked to a metro employee. I talked a female employee she started yelling at me. She was annoyed by my request and report. She said that it didn't happen at her station, so I should go to the other station instead to report it. She was angry towards me not following a procedure that I didn't even know existed. Then I stood there. I didn't even have words for what she said to me. She saw I wasn't moving. She directed me toward Alexandria police officers that were outside. I was hesitant because I didn't feel comfortable telling the story to three male police officers. At the same time, I knew I couldn't let it go. I didn't know if the man was going to do it again or to someone else. I went up to them and told them what happened. One of the officers started laughing. He asked, "Did you see it? What size was it?". They did not do anything to help me." -Rev. Dawn Sanders
"I do think that you are forever changed. Now, I feel responsible as a member of this community and clergy woman to advocate for women's empowerment. I really feel committed to voicing this concern for women and girls that may never be able to tell their story. I can be a voice for the individuals who can't speak about it right now or feel shame or stigma from it. I certainly don't think anyone should have to shoulder this burden alone."
“I was taking the bus to work during the summer. A man, who appeared to be intoxicated, entered and sat down in the same area towards the back of the bus. The man starts trying to talk to a woman who was sitting across from me. She was obviously looking at her phone and didn’t want to be bothered. He started touching her. Grabbing her arm. Grabbing her chest. She told him to stop but he kept going for it. To be honest, I am a small person. I am 5 4’ and this guy was clearly bigger than me. Since it seemed he was on something I didn’t want to confront him directly. Other people around us were on their phones and reading books and didn’t seem to care about what was happening. I went to the front of the bus and told the female bus driver to stop because of what was happening to this woman. She pulled over right away, called the police on the intercom and asked the man to leave. At that point, some other passengers got involved to help remove him from the bus. Three or four people in the front of the bus started accosting me with homophobic slurs. They called me faggot, stating, “this is my morning commute!” “Why are you holding us up?” I was offended and disgusted, telling them that there was a man groping a woman on the bus. It was a very disheartening thing to witness--not only were people not willing to step up but they expressed more concern over being late for work than they did over this person being harassed.”
"It happened right after I moved here. It was on a Saturday morning and I was going to go hiking with my friend. I got on the metro and there were only two other people on the train. I was tired, wearing hiking pants, and an old t-shirt. A man got on the train and out of all the empty seats he came and sat right next to me. He started manspreading, pushing his legs apart and pressing them against my thigh. I felt really uncomfortable and was trying to move as close to the window as possible. I put my bag in between us to create a little barrier. He kept pushing his leg on to me and his hand started sliding down on to my thigh. I was terrified. Looking back, I wonder why I didn't say anything then. I think I was just shocked that this was happening. I tried to squish myself as far into the wall as possible. I told him, "Would you mind giving me some space I am feeling a little squished?". He started yelling at me. That's when I realized he was drunk. I wanted to defend myself, but I didn't want to get hurt. I told him I just wanted to get out and he could have all of the seat if he just let me out. He didn't move. He just kept shouting at me. There was another woman on the train and she came up to me and asked if I was ok. She asked me if I knew this guy. I told her no and that I was terrified. She got involved and we moved him out of the seat together. There was another guy on the train who helped too. At the next stop, I bolted off the train…I am so thankful for those bystanders who helped me. I didn't know what I could do in that moment. Now I only sit at the ends of the seats. This is one of those little things that we shouldn't have to think about when we get on the metro."
"I don't wear glasses on the metro. I don't make eye contact. I don't want to give anyone an invitation to talk to me. Without my glasses, I cannot see details. I don't want to know what other people are doing around me. In the morning I never wear them. After work I will take them off before I start commuting back home."
Human Resources Professional
"I always fall asleep on the metro in a middle seat. That is the best thing in the world to fall asleep in a moving vehicle. One morning, I felt something in my lap. I didn't think I had anything in my lap so I forced myself to wake up. I looked down and there was a hand touching my crotch. I stood up, pushed the old man out of his seat and yelled at him to get off of me. No one asked if I was ok. Nobody cared. Nobody even looked up..."Unfortunately, I did not take his picture or report him to Metro. Now, I will only sit if I can find an aisle seat next to a woman. But the most frustrating thing about these incidents is people's reactions when I tell them this story. They say, "Well, you shouldn't have fallen asleep!" Unacceptable. The real question is, "Why can't a man keep his hands to himself?" If you fall asleep or wear a certain thing that doesn't give anyone the right touch you. A woman should be able to do and wear whatever she wants and not feel afraid."
“It wasn’t that long ago. There were only a few people on the train with me. I could feel that someone was looking at me. I looked over and saw a man looking directly at me. He walked over and sat close to me. It was a little weird because there were so many other places to sit. His lower body was blocked by a seat in front of him. I noticed that his hand was vigorously moving. I could feel in my peripheral vision that he was staring at me while he was masturbating. My first feeling was disgust. I got up and stood by the door. When I got off the train I had an even weirder feeling. Is this the world that we live in? We just have to deal with this? Then I was disappointed in myself for not saying anything. What’s really upsetting is that if we don’t come together and don’t say anything about this, it’s going to become normalized. It’s going to be a normal thing that every woman has to go through every single day. Someday if I have a daughter, what am I going to tell her? That this is just a part of life for women? I keep thinking this is just the world that we live in, but it doesn’t have to be. We shouldn’t have to put up with this every time we use public transportation.”
"I used to live in India so street harassment is not new to me at all. I have been harassed on the DC metro multiple times but this one sticks to me the most...I was on the metro wearing shorts it was pretty warm outside. It must have been March or April. I was sitting on the first seat closest to the door. This whole group of older men got on the train and they started leering at me. There were more than 5 and less than 10. I couldn't count all of them because there were so many of them. They all started shouting at me. Some of them had kids with them, little boys. They were commenting to the little boys about the way that my legs looked. The boys looked as if they were less than 10. I was extremely uncomfortable. I got up and they all got so much louder because they saw the back of my shorts. I remember one of the comments in particular, "She got an ass on her!" They all start going on about my butt and asked where I was going. I was terrified they were going to follow me because there were so many of them. There were too many of them for me to keep track of. I exited the train and sprinted towards the exit…This was probably the most terrified I have ever been. The other top four are the other times I have been harassed."
“I got in to a half-full front metro car on a Sunday afternoon. It was great. There was even a cop there for a while. The metro car was beginning to empty out. I felt fine about it at the time, but then I was the only person on the car. It didn’t matter to me at the time. A man got on the train and sat directly behind me. I thought it was a little odd since the entire train car was empty. I didn’t want to make him feel bad, and I didn’t want to move which is funny to me now. I remember staying there and thinking I was uneasy, but there were only a few stops left. Then, I felt something on me. Something wet. I just started looking around. You know that feeling sometimes when you are on a metro car where the windows leak? But it wasn’t raining. Then I turned around and saw the man adjusting his pants and I saw a strip of his stomach. I think I knew what happened, but I didn’t want to believe it. So, I said to him, ‘What is on me?’ He responded, ‘Oh, it’s nothing.’ I was looking at him over my shoulder when I realized what had happened.
I got up and said, “There’s something on me, what is it? There is something in my hair!’ He said, ‘Oh it’s baby lotion, it’s good for you.’ And I said, ‘I need to see the lotion right now.’ He started rummaging through his backpack. I knew it wasn’t lotion. I started yelling. ‘I have allergies, where is the lotion?’ So finally, I said, ‘Did you spit on me or something?’ I could smell it. He started curling up against the window and I started to feel very afraid. The train pulled up to Rockville. I got off the front car, turned, and was standing on the platform. I remember the woman driving the train stuck her head outside the window, as I stared at the man inside curled up on the seat. I thought to myself, I should remember this moment.”
“It was when the weather started to freak out again. I was just minding my business all bundled up. Clearly going to work at the metro. I had my khakis on. As I was coming up the escalator in front of me and I realized that a man was staring at me. I just ignored it because I thought he was going to stop. But when I got on the metro platform and I stood there waiting for the train. He walked up to me and started telling me how beautiful I am and how he really wants my number and wants to take me out. I told him politely that I don’t feel comfortable giving my number out to strangers. He would not walk away until I promised that the next time he sees me again that I have to give him my number because we wouldn’t be strangers anymore. He was harassing me for about 5 minutes until the metro got there. There were plenty of people around especially since it was rush hour going to work but no one said anything. I didn’t feel right for the rest of the day. Since then I get to the metro and I am scared he is going to be there again. Some days I try to ignore it because I haven’t seen him since. But it’s tough.”
Do you have any advice for women on what to do in a scary situation on the metro?
“I would just tell a person pray. That’s what I do. Hopefully they will have a peaceful ride to their destination and a peaceful ride back. Please God let me get to my destination in one piece. Get all these men and boys to leave me alone I just want to get where I’m going”.
“I was coming home from work around 8:30 PM. I had my earbuds in and was listening to a podcast. I noticed this guy starting to get into my personal bubble on the Metro platform. I moved away and didn’t make any eye contact. But then he kept getting closer and closer, to the point I started looking around seeing if anyone else was noticing this. I eventually tried to make eye contact with him to show him that I realized what he was doing. He wouldn’t look at me. Eventually the train came and we got into the same car, then he started to stare at me. I decided to get off and change cars. We were in the older cars where they have windows in between the cars. I was watching him to make sure he wasn’t going to get off at my station. When the train stopped at my station, he got off along with me. I could see him catch sight of me and maintained eye contact at that point. At that point I just sat down on a bench on the platform and waited him out. I didn’t want him to follow me home......It’s not a sex thing. It’s a power thing. It doesn’t matter what you are wearing. It is just that another person wants to have power over you. By showing that he is willing to stare at you, follow you, masturbate in front of you, rape you, whatever. It is him having power over you. That’s what they want.”
“I was with a friend and it was probably around midnight. We were going from New Carrolton to Capital South. This guy got on the train and sat across from us and he decided that because I had big breasts that it clearly meant that I wanted to have sex with him. That I wanted to perform oral sex on him. And he got up and he was standing in front of us the entire time. He was talking to me and was saying really descriptive rude terms. I froze. I couldn't really talk to him. I couldn't answer anything. And the entire time he was touching himself. He was video tapping the entire incident. Eventually, this guy who was on the same train as us who was sitting a few seats down got up and told him to back off. He started freaking out and calling this guy Captain America. Saying that he could do whatever he wanted that we didn't say that we didn't want to talk to him. Eventually we got to our stop. We got off of the train. Initially we thought he was following us off the train but he was getting off to go into another car to be away from Captain America…I sent Metro this really detailed account to what happened. The fact that the guy was drawing his nails with a sharpie. What kind of alcohol he smelled like. I sent it in. I got an email back I think the next day that said, `Thank you for your extremely detailed account of what happened. Our suggestion would be that you do not ride the metro after 8 pm, and try to wear sensible clothing on the metro.” -Rowan
"What happened to me on public transportation isn’t something that should be happening to a 17-year-old high school girl. In fact, it isn’t something that should happening to any person at all.
Clad in my uniform, I rushed out of my last period class for the walk to my bus stop by the Medical Center metro station – the 46 Ride On. I had an English paper due the next day that I hadn’t started on and wanted to get back home as soon as possible to get started on it. I knew I had a better chance of catching an emptier bus before peak rush hour, and I was right. The 5-minute wait gave me a chance to get my headphones in so I could ride the bus, uninterrupted. There were no more than 5-10 people on the bus with me, so I was able to get my usual seat – right by the back exit.
If I’m by myself, I typically tend to mind my own business while I’m taking any sort of public transportation, and this time was no different. With my headphones in, I was able to hear no more than the sounds of the stops. However, this time, I heard a booming thump from the man who decided to sit next to me – a moustachioed man with a medium-to-large build, presumably coming from work with a briefcase in hand.
I wondered why he was sitting next to me in a bus full of empty seats where he had his pick of the lot. As I continued to listen to my music and avoid eye contact with the man next to me, I started to feel a sweaty, warm hand on my thigh. My mind went blank and I didn’t know what to do in that moment. I was so focused on avoiding eye contact with him, that he found himself the opportunity to do what he wanted to my body when I wasn’t looking. I continued looking straight ahead and avoided any eye contact with him possible.
About 10 seconds later, the bus came to a halting stop at the request of another passenger wanting to get off. Deciding to take this opportunity, I quickly jumped up out of my seat to walk out – but not before he was able to pull on my skirt. I turned around, looking him straight in the eye with the snarkiest expression of contempt I could muster up, and walked out of the bus.
This is the first time I’ve told this story to anyone. In the moments after the incident, I kept on thinking to myself: “Was this harassment?” You can’t help but question yourself when an act that is meant to be consensual and private is done in such a public setting. I know now, after hearing so many stories of similar occurrences, that this was harassment. In that moment, should I have said something? I really didn’t know what I could have done or what would have happened if I did.
In this movement of #metoo, I am using this project as a platform to speak my mind and share my story in hopes that others might come forward too. Never forget that there is strength in solidarity."
“I was riding the metro one day. I was coming up on L’Enfant plaza getting ready to get off. I was sitting at the end of the row and I noticed a girl who was sitting in the handicapped seats. She was sitting next to man who was wearing baggy pants and a black shirt. I just happened to look up at the right time. He took his hands and started to rub her thigh. She had this actual look of fear and shock and she couldn't move. I knew she couldn't move because she didn’t. She was just frozen. So I thought. Oh God. What do I do? Do I call him out. I don't want him to react violently and start a large scene. So what I did was I went, “Hey oh my god! I haven't seen you in so long! How are you? Come sit right next to me!” She looked at me, she jumped up from the seat and sat right next to me. And she said “Its been forever. He was glowering in the seat close to us. I honestly don't think he realized what I did. I am pretty sure he thought I knew her. Eventually we got off the train together.”
“I was on my way to work. It was a summer morning and the train was overcrowded on the orange line. I was surrounded by a bunch of men in suits. You could not move. No one could move anywhere. When the train operator slowed down the car everyone started to shift over. I could feel a hand on my leg as the train was jerking to stop. The hand would move closer when it shifted. At first I thought this person was just shoved up against me. But the last two times that they did it his hand went into my crotch in between my legs…This is stuff that women deal with for their entire lives.”
“My friend Mia and I signed up for these kickboxing classes. It was 3 for $9 which is so cheap for kickboxing and its all the way in East Falls Church. We went together. We got on the metro at GW Foggy bottom and rode it all the way to East Falls Church. We were walking because the location was 5 minutes away. I noticed this man in this glass hallway we were walking in. You can see reflection through the glass. And I started to notice this man approaching us and my friend Mia is short. I am one of the tallest of my friends so I am known as a protecter. I put her in front of me as we were walking. I just kept looking and pulled my purse in tighter. He was walking behind us for about 2 minutes. He got about a foot away from me. I turned to my left and I could see that he had a phone. And I turned around saw that he was recording my ass. I said, ‘Are you recording my butt?’ He was so in shock that I actually said something to him. He froze. My friend Mia said ‘What is he doing?’. I responded, “He is recording my butt. He has been recording us walking’. I was so in shock. I was so infuriated because I really didn’t know what to do.”
"Women are powerful. I mean that literally. Our bodies are built for resilience and struggle. Our minds and spirits are built to withstand trauma and challenge and, somehow, allow us to adapt. But one day, I sat on the train coming home from work. I sat reading the paper, shockingly an article about the #metoo movement. I looked to my right and a man was staring at his lowered phone. And after a quick moment, I realized that through his phone, he was looking up my skirt. He was actively working to get an angle up the slit of my gray pencil skirt and around my crossed knees. I was embarrassed. I was mortified. When I got up to leave, he simply looked at me and grinned. He said: “I hope your day ends as good as mine just did.”
I felt dirty. I felt like I shouldn’t wear that skirt anymore. And then that made me angry. Why should the actions of a man, actions that made me feel like an object, actions that made me feel a lack of power, force me to feel less valuable as a woman? I worked to remember my voice. I actively worked to harness my agency. And then I remembered how many women do not have those options and it humbled my heart.
Right now, amongst the Weinstein’s in the world who do not get the public shame and continue to assert a toxic masculinity that push women to feel shame in their space and body, we need to stand together. Instead of us women comparing harassment and experience in a negative way, let’s support one another. Because women, as a collective and with our shared but unique experiences, have unbelievable power. And let’s hold our male counterparts to this standard. To the men who will read this and be horrified because you have a daughter, sister or wife, remember that this MATTERS. And not just because of the women who touch your lives. But because women are people too. We all deserve to feel powerful and full of agency and voice in this world that we share.