Transit officials in Boston recently launched an aggressive campaign aimed at cracking down on people who take advantage of the tight squeeze on crowded trains. Over the past month, officials say the program has led to a record number of arrests for subway sex assaults.
Riders on Boston's subway, known as the "T," are accustomed to the fact that sometimes there will be full-body contact on jam-packed trains, where people are falling and bumping into one another. However, that sardine-canlike environment creates the perfect camouflage for those who grope.
One rider, Laura Thomas, says it sometimes takes a while to realize when the touching goes beyond the accidental bump. But Boston University student Dianna Wizka knew it was intentional immediately with one guy who she says did more than just grope.
"He just kept on kinda like thrusting his pelvis, rubbing up and down. Just skeevy," says Wizka, who didn't report the assault to police.
Transit officials say women usually don't report groping incidents because they're embarrassed and don't believe it will have any effect. So officials have plastered subway cars with nearly a thousand signs urging victims to speak out — and warning potential predators that they are being watched by cameras and by "the grope patrol" of undercover police officers.
On a recent subway trip, Sgt. Mike Adamson was one of several plainclothes officers keeping an eye on a police decoy rider — a pretty young blond woman wearing a T-shirt hanging off one shoulder, a bright skirt and flip-flops.
The decoy got on the train and ended up wedged between the door and a bald guy in a button-down shirt who kept trying to talk to her. She winked at the officers as the man's arm dropped out of sight behind her, but after several subway stops, nothing had happened. Later, the decoy laughed at the guy's lame pickup lines about her tattoo and her toes.
"It gets to a point, where if he doesn't do anything, if he doesn't commit an offense, move on," Adamson says. "We're not looking to discourage guys from talking to women."
After more than a month undercover, officials say the grope patrol has made a difference. The number of reported groping incidents — from the relatively minor to the really lewd — has doubled. Some women have even preserved clothing, which police officers need for evidence, while others are sending in pictures of guys they snap on their cell phones.