Transit employees’ sexual harassment of riders isn’t OK

It’s a bad sign of the times when a bus driver can verbally sexually harass a 16-year-old girl without being immediately reprimanded because he didn’t touch or act on any of this innuendos.

As reported on The Sexist, a Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority bus driver blatantly sexually harassed a 16-year-old girl while she was riding the bus to school:

His remarks quickly turned sexual: “You look really sexy . . . you have really big breasts,” he told her. After asking her age, he said, “You really don’t look like you’re 16.”

As the bus made its way toward school, the girl attempted to deter his advances. When he asked if she had a boyfriend, she lied and said yes. But when the bus reached her stop, he said, “Stay on this bus, honey, and I’ll make it worth the time, if you know what I mean.”

I am sufficiently disgusted, but WMATA wasn’t. The girl and her family have been waiting for more than two weeks for some kind of action to be taken against this bus driver, who apparently had multiple complaints against him already. According to The Sexist, there have been several complaints to WMATA about bus drivers sexually harassing riders.

Sexual harassment is a power game — often it’s a boss or a person of authority who does the harassing because their position of power (they think) will shield them from being reported or reprimanded. In this case, it’s a bus driver who carries a lot of power. He controls where you are going, he has you enclosed somewhere, and this girl likely had to weigh whether to just ignore or brush off his harassment or try to get off the bus and find another route to school, hoping not to be late.

The fact that WMATA isn’t acting more speedily is scary, because their excuse is simply that he didn’t touch her or force her to do anything. What if he had? Why is everyone’s solution to a possible problem, “Well, it hasn’t happened yet, so it probably won’t happen in the future”? (See: Gulf oil spill.)Instead of waiting for this bus driver to actually act on his verbal harassment, why not prevent it from happening at all?

And in the realm of trying to publicize public transportation and get more people to ride (considering WMATA has had to increase fare rates in part because of lower ridership), the thought of dealing with bus drivers or other Metro employees who are continual sexual harassers is enough to convince anyone to just drive instead.

How is this 16 year old supposed to feel about riding the bus twice a day, now that some bus driver who knew she was 16 years old was commenting about the size of her breasts and insinuating having a sexual encounter? If she can’t afford another way to school, then she is forced to take the bus every day, likely apprehensive that the bus doors will open and the guy who harassed her will be there again.

Public transportation is a public service that people rely on to get to school, work, and other important places — if the people we rely on to get to places where we can make a living or get an education can leverage this against us, how is this fair? Would WMATA condone a metro employee saying he’ll only help me with my malfunctioning SmarTrip card if I return his favor with a sexual one?

The line they are drawing is blurry, when really they shouldn’t be drawing a line about “acceptable harassment” at all. Metro riders are paying for a specific service and not to be harrassed, so it shouldn’t be condoned, swept under the rug, or backlogged in bureaucratic paperwork.

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