Yesterday, I became a victim of sexual assault while on my way to work. Metro keeps pushing for budget increases via taxing Los Angeles, but nowhere have I seen measures being taken to overhaul security while on the train.
At 10:30 AM yesterday, I had boarded the Metro Red Line at the North Hollywood station, headed towards Union Station. I was standing in the handicap/luggage/bicycle area, holding my bicycle, facing the window and my back turned towards the seats. I had my headphones on, minding my business. There was a man sitting in the seats where my back was turned. I did not notice him. While the train was in motion, this man came up behind me and open-handed grabbed my vagina.
If anyone else has ever experienced this in their life, I am sorry. It felt degrading. I lost my breath. I think my whole body went icy.
At that moment my fight-or-flight kicked in and I immediately hit him away. I roared, “WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT.” Another man saw what happened and came up and yelled at my assailant to back off. Bless you, sir; everyone else who had seen (or at the very least had definitely heard me) kept their eyes averted and their mouths closed. My assailant started mumbling incoherent things at me. I noticed he was unable to focus his eyes on anything; based on this, as well as dirt on his face and clothing I assumed he was homeless and either mentally ill or on drugs.
When we stopped at the Universal City station (the next stop), he got off the train, but quickly got back on. A moment of relief immediately replaced with panic. I was standing next to the “Emergency- push to call conductor” button. Should I push it?
As the train took off he started talking to me again. I told him to stop talking to me. He got up and walked over to another woman and sat next to her. She got up and walked somewhere else and he came back and sat near me and started talking to me again. I was afraid to take action against this man. My literal thoughts where:
He only did it once. He’s not doing it anymore.
He’s not harming anyone else. It’s just me.
No one cares. It’s over now.
The window to take action has expired.
All the other cars are going to get mad that their train is delayed.
Will everyone who saw get mad also?
Because I took too long to take action?
Because I never did anything?
All I knew was that I wanted him off. When we got to the Hollywood/Highland station, I pressed the red emergency button. I was shaking as I did. The button lit up. *Crackle crackle kkhhhh* “Hello? HELLO?” As I was talking into the intercom I noticed that all eyes were on me and I was getting nervous. Without waiting for a response from the conductor I said “THERE IS A MAN IN MY CAR WHO ASSAULTED ME AND I WANT HIM REMOVED.” *Kkkkkhhhhh*. “HELLO?” Finally a response crackled through. I couldn’t make out any coherent words, but what I thought I could piece together was “get off at the next stop”. The light turned off. I was confused, but I could only assume that meant that he had contacted security and that they’d be waiting for me at the next station. The train pulled forward.
I got off at the Hollywood/VIne station, the next stop. There was no security waiting for me. The conductor, not realizing that I was the one who contacted him, closed the doors and took off. Even worse, my assailant FOLLOWED ME OUT OF THE TRAIN. I frantically looked around for any police or security; there was no one. I thought, “Did I just get kicked off of the train?” My next thought was that I had to get away from this piece of garbage. He followed me towards the streets, asking if I was single. The only thing I could understand him say, and it’s on a loop. “Are you single hey are you single i asked if you were single do you want to go out sometime.”
Out on the streets, I walked two blocks, looking for police, for anyone to help. No one was around. He was still trailing behind me asking me to go out with him. Realizing that there would be no help coming I turned on my assailant and yelled that I was going to call the police. Something registered in him; he turned back towards the station and ran away from me. I found a quiet corner and gave myself permission to relax, breakdown and cry.
Later on I filed a report with the sheriff’s department. The officer taking my report opined to me that “taking public transportation is dangerous. If you can’t afford to not take it, you’re pretty much on you’re own. Metro security is a joke.” This is outrageous. LA Metro recently opened up many new stations and is hoping to expand more lines. They’ve launched campaigns urging locals to rely more on public transportation. Hell, there are posters everywhere about their zero tolerance policy on sexual assault. One sticks out to me: A blurry woman in the background, and in the foreground is the text “Everyone saw, but no one spoke up.” What is LA Metro doing to ensure the safety of its’ passengers? I shouldn’t have had to wait as long as I did for any sort of response. LA Metro failed to deliver on its’ zero tolerance policy.
Firstly, Metro should certainly upgrade their intercom system. McDonald’s has a more sophisticated system than they do, it’s embarrassing. Furthermore, I would argue that on trains like the Red and Purple lines, which are underground, there should be at least one Metro police officer on the train at all times. That way, if the red button is pushed they are able to respond within minutes to the situation. Also, having a Metro police station at every stop would be great. At the very least, passengers might feel safer, and perpetrators might feel less inclined to do something, knowing that the response will be immediate.
This incident happened during the daytime. How am I supposed to feel when I take the train to go home at night? LA Metro, I am calling on you to do better. Do whatever it takes to protect your riders. Re-allocate funds towards security. Train you drivers and conductors. Support us, or else…how can you expect us to support you?
By: Valerie Vasilas
**** Editor’s note: After over twenty four hours Vasilas has been in contact with LA Metro. Act Like a Girl will keep you updated on Valerie and how LA Metro handles this situation.****