BART and Muni records of catcalling, groping, rape and other types of sexual harassment on stations and vehicles indicate that this public nuisance is rare.
Only 12 incidents have been recorded in the past two years. BART’s numbers are even more impressive, with no incidents whatsoever in the Mission since 2012, and only 20 incidents in all of San Francisco.
Talk to women on the streets, however, and it quickly becomes clear how misleading the official numbers are. In only 19 interviews, Mission Local turned up six victims of sexual harassment—half the official number reported in two years. Extrapolate out and it is likely that among the 700,000 boardings a day on Muni and 117,000 on BART, sexual harassment incidents number in the thousands.
A Muni spokesperson said the SFMTA and SFPD work closely together to try to make transit as safe as possible. “Muni is an extension of San Francisco’s city streets,” she wrote. “The same care and attention one takes on the street should be taken on Muni as well.”
Except, on the street, women aren’t crushed up against men.
At first, women appeared to corroborate the transportation agencies’ statistics, saying they’ve been here for years and never had a problem with it. Fare-dodgers, yes. Crazy people, yes. Fights breaking out? All the time. But sexual harassment?
Jessica Magana and her three friends waiting for a bus at 24th Street shook their heads when asked about it. Magana has been in the Mission for eight years and has never experienced it, “ever.”
Noemi Torres, a student at John O’Connel high school, takes the 12 every day and has never been harassed. Nor has Jeaneth Guiterrez, who usually takes BART and sometimes the 14 Mission, nor Stella Doyle, who has been a public transit rider in the Mission for four years.
Then, women started talking—although none of them said they had made any official complaints. “About a year ago, someone grabbed my hair as I was getting off the [BART] train,” said Magnolia Velasco. At night, she sits in the front of the bus and at other times in the midsection, to try and avoid people who yell lewd things at her in the back of the bus.
Leticia Young, who doesn’t live in the Mission but has been taking the bus through the area, said she hears drunk people call out to her, telling her she’s “cute.” But she dismisses that as hardly worth mentioning. Nonetheless, she said, “you have to protect yourself.”
One local young woman says she wears her purse or bag slung across her back so that it covers her behind, to ward off potential gropers. Stephanie Juarez said she adopted the practice after a man came up behind her and grabbed her rear, only to smirk at her when she turned around.
“I couldn’t do anything about it,” Juarez said. She also said harassment is less likely to occur once she boards, so she feels safer on the bus or train than at the stop or station.
Alicia Pineda also said a man once sat down next to her only to grab her leg. She got up and moved away, but didn’t report him. “I’m not looking for trouble; I’d rather just stand up,” she said.
Seana Collins, waiting for the 48 on 24th Street, said she’s gotten grabbed a few times and has “had people say shit,” but “nothing that made me want to run to the police or anything.” She said the 14 and late-night OWL buses are the most likely sites for harassment.
Sporting a head of dyed bright-yellow hair and eyebrows to match, Orchid Taylor says she gets called out to a lot—“Hey Yellow” is a popular greeting from strangers to her, followed by some unwanted flirtatious or lewd comments. She says she usually just smiles at them or shrugs it off, because she doesn’t want to come off as rude.
But Taylor also recalls a Caltrain ride after a Giants game during which, smothered in the crowded train, she was felt up three different times. “There were so many people yet nobody could do anything,” said Taylor, who also gave a short, incredulous laugh at the official Muni and BART statistics.
Muni encourages riders to voice their concerns by notifying the vehicle operator if it’s safe to do so. Anyone who witnesses a more extreme incident like a rape or violent assault should go directly to 911. Otherwise, customers can call the Muni Crime Hotline at (415) 671-3181, and try to provide the line, vehicle number, location, direction of travel and time of day.