The ultimate bus foul (or, “Grope this!)

It appears that male subway riders in New York are having trouble keeping their hands (and other body parts) to themselves.

In some ways, groping seems almost an accepted part of subway culture. Stephanie Vullo, 43, said she had dealt many times with men rubbing up against her or trying to touch her on crowded No. 4 or 5 trains in the morning when she takes her daughter to school.

– “Women Have Seen It All on Subway, Unwillingly,” The New York Times

This is a problem in cities across the world, usually on buses and trains that are crowded enough to afford some level of anonymity. These cities have responded by reserving a handful of buses and train cars for women.

A recent survey found that nearly 64% of Japanese women in their 20s and 30s said they had been groped on trains, subways or at stations in Tokyo.

Groping has long been a problem in Japanese trains, and a few lines have introduced women-only carriages.

– “Surge in groping on Tokyo trains,” BBC News

One or two women-only cars on commuter and metro trains are rolling around Rio de Janeiro during rush hours these days, courtesy of a state law signed on March 8…

The impetus for the law came from a steady influx of calls to a toll-free number that the state government offers for complaints and comments, said Deputy Jorge Picciani, who represents Rio in the state assembly.

– “In Rio Rush Hour, Women Relax in Single-Sex Trains,” Women’s E-News

Special City Bus Service for women is hitting the city roads from today to facilitate hassle free movement of female passengers. “Women-only buses hit Ctg city roads today,” The Daily Star

I can certainly understand why women feel more comfortable in these trains and buses, but I see a couple of problems with the model:

1) It doesn’t scale. There are only a handful of women-only vehicles in these systems, which means that some women will ride in the coed cars. With fewer other women in the cars with them, they are likely to feel (and be) more vulnerable. If the cities respond by adding more vehicles for women, they will soon end up with segregated public transportation systems.

2) It doesn’t really address the problem. The cultural norms (or impulses, or whatever) that cause this to happen on such a large scale need to be identified and addressed (of course, I’m not sure how). Seriously, it completely floors me that such a large number of men feel compelled to do this. Regularly.

In general, the idea that women have to be separated from men to feel safe is disturbing. Public transportation “safe zones” might make sense in the short term (though I doubt these kinds of laws will ever be enacted in the U.S.), but I don’t see them as a sustainable model for the long term.

What do you guys think?

Finally, though I’ve experienced my share of inappropriate male behavior on buses, I have never been subjected to groping–either in Seattle or in any other city.

Has this happened to any of you?