LA County Metro urges riders to report sexual harassment

Los Angeles County Supervisor and Metro Board Chair Mark Ridley-Thomas speaking at a press event  for Metro's
Los Angeles County Supervisor and Metro Board Chair Mark Ridley-Thomas speaking at a press event for Metro's "It's Off Limits" campaign to end sexual harassment on Thursday, October 15, 2015.

Metro officials on Thursday renewed their call for riders to speak up and report sexual harassment on trains and buses if they see or experience it.

It's the latest effort in the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority's "It's Off Limits" campaign, which launched in April 2015 after a ridership survey showed that one in five respondents had experienced sexual harassment.

Metro published new survey numbers in August that showed only a slight dip in that number — from 22 percent of respondents to 19 percent. Reported behavior included unwanted touching or comments and indecent exposure.

"We're asking people to speak up, because speaking up is what's really going to make a difference. If this crime of sexual harassment is left unreported, then it's hard to do anything about it," Metro spokesman Paul Gonzalez told KPCC.

The data appear to underscore the need for people to report. In 2014, the L.A. Sheriff's Department registered just 99 reports of sexual harassment on the Metro system. Compare that to the nearly 4,000 people who said they'd experienced it in Metro's most recent survey — that's out of about 20,000 riders who responded to their survey, Metro said.

"While the modest reduction in incidents is a promising start, we have to increase our efforts to stop sexual harassment and keep our transit lines safe and comfortable for women and girls," L.A. County Supervisor and Metro board member Sheila Kuehl said in a prepared statement.

So what kind of sexual harassment is being reported?

About 15 percent of riders said they experienced someone making unwanted comments, making that the most common complaint. Targeting that behavior can be tricky, because comments made between adults would likely be considered free speech, but there is a statute specifically prohibiting adults from bothering children, Gonzalez said, adding that the Sheriff's Department had made arrests in some of those cases.

Fewer respondents reported unwanted touching or indecent exposure. The indecent exposure statistic in particular is a work in progress, since riders' perceptions vary, Gonzalez said. Some respondents considered a person being "underdressed" a form of indecent exposure, for instance, while others reported someone urinating in public.

In future surveys, Metro will try to fine-tune their questions to better identify incidents of indecent exposure, Gonzalez said.

A number of reporting options exist, according to Metro. Riders can:

All Metro buses and rails have video cameras, but taking a picture of your own can help.

"If people make a report, if they speak up, then we can go to our video and find the incident and find a picture of the person. And then look for that person. And if we have a photograph and a complaint, then we can arrest the harasser," Gonzalez said.

The Metro app allows you to submit a photo and complaint directly.

Metro officials plan to host another survey next month to gather more feedback.