Wednesday, March 14, 2012

It Takes More than an Email Address

Many Unsuck readers emailed the Metro Board of Directors expressing their concerns about Metro chief spokesman Dan Stessel's disgusting remarks about sexual harassment.

Here's the gist of the canned response from Lynn Bowersox Metro's Managing Director
Office of Public Relations (Danny's boss):
In referencing a statement by Metro Chief Spokesperson Dan Stessel in response to media inquiries, the blog presents only a portion of Mr. Stessel's actual statement. The omitted comment, which Mr. Stessel offered in response to a question about reports of sexual harassment in the Metro system, was, "One report is one too many." We believe that Mr. Stessel's original statement to the media, when taken in its full context as reported by most of the media, reflects a balanced and thoughtful response.
Really? So he's not going to apologize, and he's getting praised by his boss?

How can Metro say--with a straight face--that it takes sexual harassment seriously when the public face of Metro trivializes it on TV in front of an entire city?

I've asked nearly everyone I know if there's any neutral way to take "one person's harassment is another person's flirting," and everyone's jaw drops. "He really said that?" most ask in disbelief. "Was he fired?" ask many more. (They don't live here.)

A more interesting and better Metro reply did come to reader Allie, who you may remember.

Bowersox said:
Thanks again for sharing your personal experience with us, and we're sorry that you were harassed in the Metro system.
She offered Allie the chance to speak with a deputy chief of police, and Allie reports that the deputy chief did follow up with her about some of the elements of Metro’s partnership with the Collective Action for Safe Spaces. More on that below.

With respect to Dan Stessel’s comment that “It really isn't a big issue. There are a minuscule number of incidents of actual crime," Allie said:
I personally witnessed the man who assaulted me make five assaults. Two on me, two on other women on the train the second time I encountered him, and one in front of the investigator. Five assaults--that we know of for sure--and only one of those resulted in an arrest.

And are we really naive enough to believe that those are the only times that man has ever assaulted women in the Metro? C'mon.

This is not a one-off kind of crime. The men who do this are habitual.

I bet that with that kind of track record, there are at *least* a hundred women with my same story.

So Mr. Stessel should take that number if arrests for misdemeanors of a sexual nature, and multiply that number by at least five, or by a hundred. Add in numbers for all those people who are not reported or arrested, and I think that anyone, even Mr. Stessel, would be alarmed at the rate of these crimes.

There is no context in which “one person’s flirting is another person’s harassment” is acceptable. And even the language about “extended leering” mentioned on the web form makes me wonder about the culture at Metro. Does that mean that regular leering is acceptable?
And the plot thickens. Allie wrote the following:
I saw [the perp] again at the L'Enfant platform. I tried calling Metro Transit Police to report him, and the woman just kept saying she couldn't hear me--the signal was bad, and eventually hung up on me. I called Officer Lang, but unfortunately he was off duty that day. So he just pulled his same m.o. and jumped on a crowded car behind a woman at the last minute. Sickening. Clearly whatever "rehabilitation" he's receiving isn't working.
And then Allie directed me to this post, which she thinks is about her assailant who may be up to his old tricks.

Even though it is discouraging to know that the man who assaulted her is still on the prowl, Allie is positive about Metro’s partnership with CASS, saying that she thinks the web form and the new e-mail address are a good start.
I think that the saving grace here is that they're partnering with CASS. Unfortunately, I know from experience how difficult it is to make community partnerships work, and I think that the onus will be on CASS to follow up, follow up, follow up.

Here are some questions that I have about the partnership:

1) Once someone submits a form, where does it go? Who, specifically, is responsible for checking that in-box? Can complainants follow up? Will they be assigned a case number or anything that they can refer to in subsequent communications?
2) Will the information be made available to the general public, and how and when? Not identifying details, but things like how many reports were made, in which stations, have any patterns been established, etc., preferably with some thoughtful analysis of what the statistics mean.
3) What goals have they set for themselves out of this partnership, aside from setting up a form?
4) How are they going to get this information into the hands of people who need it? Will it be just a Tweet, or will there be a concerted effort to put (and keep) the information out there? Is it just a form, or is it posters in the trains and the stations, announcements in the stations, PSAs on local media, etc.?
5) What is CASS's role in this? For community partnerships to work, roles need to be clearly defined and each group has to take responsibility and have some authority in the outcome. This one might be a little dicey- I can't see WMATA giving CASS any say-so beyond nominal suggestions, but maybe I'm wrong.
6) What metrics are they using to measure success? Have they set a date/time to check in to see if they are hitting their marks? How are they planning to evaluate these actions? If so, when? And will the public be informed?
7) Is WMATA prepared to be flexible? If they aren't hitting their success metrics, are they willing to back off what they're doing and try again with something different? Or will they throw up their hands and say, "Oh well, we tried. It's the riders' fault for not getting us the information we need."?
8) Is CASS prepared to be persistent in holding WMATA accountable? And how do they plan to hold WMATA accountable?

The Transit Police is up against a lot. In the blink of an eye, their case can cross state and county lines, and they've got to follow a whole new set of procedures, a whole new set of regulations, etc.

People move so quickly on and off those trains- they can be gone in an instant.

The cell coverage is spotty, so even if someone wants to call, sometimes they can't.

Add into that all the usual crime issues, and I think they've got a lot on their plate.

If CASS isn't really on top of them, building the relationship and continually checking in, it could easily get back-burnered. Especially if results aren't seen within the first month, which really isn't a realistic hope for a brand new partnership. These things take time.

Most people don't realize that it takes time for these things to get traction. Every "boots on the ground" person that I've dealt with on the Transit Police really cares about keeping people safe. I think it just gets more warped and twisted the higher up you go.

It would be interesting if you picked a date six months from now to check in and see how the partnership is going. That would be what, September? Enough time for the initial furor to die away and to get a good picture of what's really happening.
Other items:
This is an annual salary story, but good to be reminded (WaPo)
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