Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and the advocacy group Hollaback! today called on the State Legislature to pass a new law protecting straphangers from “subway grinders.” In a letter sent to Speaker Silver and Majority Leader Skelos, they criticized a recent court ruling that effectively downgraded the seriousness of sexual assaults perpetrated on crowded subway trains. A judge recently threw out felony charges against a repeat offender because he did not use force against his victims—even though he used the crowded subways to assault his victims. De Blasio and Hollaback Executive Director Emily May called for new legislation that would allow prosecutors to pursue felony charges and jail time for offenders found guilty of persistent sexual abuse.
Read the full letter below:
September 18, 2012
Honorable Sheldon Silver
Speaker of the NYS Assembly
Legislative Office Building, Room 932
Albany, NY 12248
Honorable Dean G. Skelos
Majority Leader of the NYS Senate
Legislative Office Building, Room 909
Albany, NY 12247
Dear Speaker Silver and Majority Leader Skelos:
We write in support of strengthening laws to protect transit riders from sexual assault. A deeply flawed court ruling has effectively downgraded the seriousness of sexual assaults in our transit system, claiming that perpetrators can only be charged with a felony if they utilize force during the assault. This most recent decision severely undercut recent efforts to hold “subway grinders” accountable and protect New York City straphangers—particularly women and children. We urge you to swiftly pass a new law that would enable prosecutors to bring felony charges against sex offenders who assault their victims on crowded trains and buses.
We firmly believe that jail time is a necessary deterrent and response to persistent sexual abuse. The crimes involved in recent court cases posed a serious risk to the health and safety of New Yorkers. In one case, a sex offender with 32 prior arrests was facing charges for rubbing himself to orgasm on three young women aged 24, 22 and 17. Incredibly, the judge in the case threw out felony charges on the grounds that no threat of violence was present during the assaults. The decision is ignorant of the reality facing millions of straphangers. Mass transit can create a highly precarious environment as a crowded, over-capacity train or bus leaves little possibility for escape. This fact is not lost on sex offenders.
We commend our District Attorneys for aggressively pursuing these cases and pressing for jail time for offenders. It has taken far too long to address the issue of sexual harassment and assault in our transit system. Now that this issue is finally receiving the attention it deserves, we cannot see existing laws undercut. We urge you to swiftly pass legislation to empower prosecutors to pursue charges commensurate with these heinous crimes.
Bill de Blasio
Public Advocate for the City of New York
Executive Director, Hollaback!