On Monday night, Lauren, a New York City web producer, was riding a crowded Brooklyn-bound F train on her way home from work around 7 p.m. when the man standing in front of her got gross. As she stood pressed against the door, the man crossed the car and stood in front of her. He was rubbing himself, and she “looked down to see his pants unzipped, with the shape of his hard penis sheathed in nothing but gray boxer briefs,” as she wrote on her personal blog. “I was wondering if I should yell, ‘Put your penis away!’ But I was shaking too much to say anything,” she told us today.
But as she exited the train, she did manage to use her iPhone to snap a picture of the sick lad, seen to the right, skinny in a dress shirt and aviators, carrying an unzipped duffel bag full of clothes. “He looked at me, knew what happened and then looked down,” Lauren said. “At this point, all I can do is hope that someone braver than me recognizes him, and gives him a swift knee to the balls,” she wrote in her account, which has gathered more than 60 Tumblr notes and counting. We talked to Lauren more about her sadly shared experience and her form of vigilante justice, or at least the spread of awareness.
“No one noticed, he was just facing me,” she explained. “I was feeling like I should say something, but I couldn’t.” Lauren eventually got off a stop early, but not before she “stuck [the iPhone] in his face.” He stood in her path on her way off the train, and she gave a forceful “Excuse me!” He responded, “Sure.” She said she was shaking for at least half-an-hour after.
“It’s not an uncommon thing,” Lauren said. In fact, just a few weeks ago, her friend Kate Spencer wrote on her own blog about an abusive run-in with a man on the subway. (Those PSAs exist for a reason.) A man brushed her thigh on purpose, so she hit him in the face. In three weeks, Spencer’s story gathered nearly 9,000 reactions on Tumblr alone.
Spencer said that she was shocked her story went viral. “I think it’s because street harassment is so pervasive. It happens to so many women. (Dare I say every one of us?) Sadly, so does the old ‘dick flash.’ How many of us have been in Lauren’s shoes before?”
And yet Lauren said she had a brief second-thought about exposing the creep. “I thought maybe his pants were just broken or that he was itchy. I felt guilty for a second. But I saw what I saw and your pants shouldn’t be unbuttoned on the subway,” she said. “He was blatant about it. There was a reason I had the reaction did.”
Lauren didn’t call the police because she “didn’t think they would be able to do anything because he didn’t touch me and I didn’t see skin,” but she did post her story to iHollaBack.org, which allows women to warn others about their harassment experiences.
“It’s just amazing how many women have gone through something similar,” Lauren said, noting the reactions she’s received so far. “And men have been really defending me and speaking out about this kind of situation, which was refreshing.”
Though on a much less severe scale, recent YouTube videos of ornery transit riders taken by fellow passengers put forth a similar message: do something offensive, illegal or embarrassing in public and you’re going to be outed, whether it’s by name, face or just in the form of a warning tale.
“Having iPhone and that kind of technology on hand,” Lauren said, “it’s easier to catch this kind of behavior that’s completely inappropriate and violating.
“As much as I was shaking, it wasn’t hard to reach up and take a picture,” she added. “At least there’s a chance that these creeps can be exposed as the creeps they are.”