We must say no to subway harassment
On the 12th of April, a 28-year-old man was caught by two brave young women after he groped them on one of Beijing’s crowded subway trains.
Described as the first subway molester to be arrested this year in Beijing by local news outlets, the man is said to work as a salesperson in Beijing. He has since confessed his offense, but the incident was not the first time he was punished for such behavior. According to reports, he was involved in a similar case in another city.
According to the police, the man groped a woman aboard a crowded subway train; the woman noticed his behavior, and he moved to another part of the train where he groped a second woman who called for help. The first woman came to her aid, and the two women held onto the man and called the police. The police waited at the next stop and took the man into custody.
Anyone with experience of the daily commute in Beijing would know that often the city’s many working women and men have to give up a little bit of decency and dignity to squeeze onto an already crowded train just to arrive at work on time. It is equally tormenting to acknowledge that when packed in a train car, it is hard to avoid bodily contact with people, men and women alike, who surround you from all directions. However, such contact should definitely feel different from intentional groping.
If crowded commuting is unavoidable, what can be done to offer commuters greater dignity and comfort? Could the subway system set up a women-only car? Of course, such a measure would involve not only the designation of a special passenger car, but it would also require certain infrastructure and design upgrades at subway stations, such as proper signage and marks along the platforms. Even if they were to implement such changes, it would be pointless because the rush hour crowd is likely to override people’s best intentions to queue by sex.
Nevertheless, with summer fast approaching, working women in Beijing will have to find ways to address their commuting challenges, including totally shunning the subway during rush hour. Of course, it would be sad if the city’s hardworking women have to lose out on Beijing’s most efficient mode of transportation because men cannot keep their hands to themselves. The society as a whole must nurture a culture against groping and harassment on the subway. A positive cultural setting is the best way to prevent and deter offenders. That said, does it really mean Beijing subway commuters have to submit to the loss of personal dignity during rush hour? Well, the infrastructure realities of the existing subway system seem to suggest yes. However, the overall public transportation and city planning system still has enormous potential for growth. The subway can be supported by buses, bikes and emerging ride- and bike-sharing services. More strategic, longer-term solutions will need to include the integration of communities to replace the outdated city center-satellite township layout. Let’s hope Beijing’s officials will continue to work to find ways to accommodate its deserving, hardworking people.