Friday, August 29, 2008

BART Attack

I guess all the talk about the police the other day, and making a plan to take BART to a meeting next month got me to remembering the night a creep attacked me on BART. Some people may think it's weird to put this on a blog read by all kinds of people who barely know me, but I'm not the pervert who goes around grabbing women, I'm the victim, I have nothing to be ashamed of. I have found there are a lot of things women have gone through that they don't talk about, leaving others to think they are the only ones who have gone through a similar thing. So here's my story, it's a long one, but it may explain a little bit about me. Like why I don't try too hard to get out of jury duty, and why I make sweeping comments about aggressive men.

One night about ten years ago I was taking BART to the East Bay for dinner with the guy I was seeing at the time. He liked to joke that I should reimburse him for all the bridge tolls and time he sat in traffic to come over here, so once in a while I would go there.

It was a rare hot day in San Francisco because I was wearing shorts. I was sitting in the middle of the car, next to the aisle with my belongings safely on the inside seat. I vividly remember reading a textbook balanced in my lap, when suddenly I saw and felt a hand grasping my crotch. I grabbed the arm attached to the hand, and I said "what are you doing"? I was even more repulsed when I saw how raggedly the person's clothes were. I was sitting and he was standing, so momentum allowed him to escape my grasp.

I jumped up and called the driver on the emergency intercom and told him what happened, and the train was halted. I think the creep got back on the train or was taunting me because I do remember one person telling him to leave me alone. Other than that people were just staring, doing nothing. I waited and waited for the police to come and figured the guy was long gone, when I saw him on the platform. I called the driver again and told him. Then I saw the creep go up the escalator so I followed him. Amazingly the station agents had no idea what was going on and as I explained we saw the creep by the gates. One of the agents ran with me to follow him.

We chased him up to the street and he started shouting I had asked for it and called me obscene names. That part was actually worse than the attack. He appeared to be on drugs. We asked a bystander to help restrain him but he wouldn't. The perv ran off, the agent followed, and I went back down into the subway, so mad that the police had never shown up and the guy got away.

Two male officers came and it turns out he was assaulting another woman at the gate when we saw him, because they were taking a statement from her. One officer had taken my driver's license and when I realized he was taking my address off it I told him I had moved since then. We let out a big sigh and was really annoyed. You know, I was a bit in shock, and if he had asked me my address I would have told him. The other officer was making sure he had my story right and at one point he touched me from behind, I wasn't expecting it and kind of freaked out. I think that's when I asked for a female officer. I also remember thinking "oh no I'm wearing shorts, they'll try to blame me".

Then they got a call saying the guy was caught and we had to go i.d. him. Amazingly, the agent kept following the guy and flagged down a Highway Patrol unit, who captured him. I was relieved. Being in the back of the police car was gross. Then I found out he had attacked yet another woman that night, and her little girl had been with her. The other victim didn't speak much English and I remember translating for her, though my Spanish is very limited.

It was all very COPS, we drove to the Transbay terminal and they shined a bright light on the creep and we said yeah, it was him. At some point I used a payphone to leave a message on my date's answering machine to let him know I was delayed, trying not to freak him out too much. Instead of waiting for him to drive in, I decided to get right back on the horse, so to speak, and took BART as planned to his station. I sat in the very front by the driver, and they had a BART officer at the other end to meet me and wait until my ride arrived.

The rest of the evening is pretty blurry. My guy said he had worn a path in the carpet pacing waiting to hear back from me. I had some wine, and we called the other victim, to explain better what was supposed to happen next, now that I had a translator. Apparently we watched television in Spanish and I was able to translate everything, thanks to the adrenalin and wine, I guess.

I didn't hear anything for a few days and called BART police. They told me that it was being handled by San Francisco police since it happened in the City. I was also told, in secrecy, that the creep does this all the time and had an order against him, forbidding him to ride BART. I waited to be contacted by the District Attorney's office and got a cell phone and pepper spray. I was really shaken up. I had taken several self-defense classes in my life and do my best not to put myself in danger, and yet someone decided that he had a right to invade my person.

Finally I got called to the Hall of Justice to talk to a prosecutor. She asked me again what happened and I mentioned that I was still sore where he grabbed me. She said there was hearing coming up and that the charge was sexual battery, and she wanted him to become a registered sex offender. I was taken back by the term sexual battery. I assumed there would be plea bargaining and she had to start with the worst. Now I realize that if he had grabbed and bruised my arm, for instance, I would have felt very differently about it. Grabbing a woman's crotch to the point of leaving a mark, and then shouting obscenities is sexual in nature, and it did make me feel not just unsafe but violated. I have a hazy feeling that even the guy I was dating was surprised that there could be jail time for someone who "groped" women.

There was a slim chance I would need to speak at the hearing. She chose me to speak rather than the other two victims, which made me kind of uncomfortable. I spoke English well and worked downtown and would show up in business clothes, unlike the other women who were just as humiliated by the creep, but not white professionals. I also had the feeling she was more interested in winning for her record than out of concern for the victims. I nervously agreed to attend.

I sat in the front behind the proseuctor. Only one other person was in the audience, sitting on the other side. I assume he was a family member of the creep. We looked at each other, pretty neutrally. I was relieved to see the criminal in a jumpsuit behind a reinforced door. I don't know if he had been locked up ever since the attack. And I don't remember a lot of what was said, and luckily I didn't have to speak. But I can still see his public defender, a woman, saying how ridiculous the charges were. Of course the fact that he had a long history of doing this and was banned from BART was never mentioned. I was highly offended to hear her speak on his behalf, even though I know it was her job. I'm also pretty sure her motives were more about her career than caring for her client.

I never found out the result, I know he didn't get the punishment the prosecutor asked for, and there was no trial. I'm not sure if it wasn't announced or I didn't understand. The prosecutor didn't speak to me. As I walked down the front stairs of the Hall of Justice I looked over and saw the relative. This time he had sadness in his eyes as he met my glance. Because his kid was a pervert? Because he realized I was a victim of his kid? Because this wasn't the first time he saw his kid accused? I'll never know.

I do know his name, but when I asked a cop friend to look it up years later he wasn't able to find out without a Social Security number. More recently I have looked on-line to see if he is registered under Megan's Law, or find out where he lives, but there is not trace. Maybe he is dead. He obviously was pretty heavily into drugs.

I just remembered that a couple days after the attack I went to find the BART station agent and thank him for helping me get the pervert caught. He told me that he had been a victim of abuse himself. He also said he hoped the creep would get some help. At that point I was more worried about punishment than help, but of course I know just locking people up isn't going to stop this kind of crime.

The time has come when I don't think of the incident every day, or even every time I see a BART train. At first I couldn't sit in the middle of a BART train, but now I'm fine. And the first time I had to go to the Hall of Justice, ironically for a Criminal Justice class, I was a little nervous, my sister went with me, I think. But since then I have gone to jury duty a couple times in courtrooms, and even ate lunch at the same cafe I did the the day of the hearing.

This happened ten years ago, but I doubt the number of crimes against women has decreased that much since then. With all the hub-bub about our having a serious female contender for presidential candidacy and now another female vice-presidential candidate I think it is important to realize that many men still think of women as objects here at their disposal. Equality of gender, and race for that matter, is not a reality.

(A few more thoughts - I was really happy that some of my previous training had kicked in and that I didn't just back down. As I was holding onto his arm, I memorized everything I could about the creep. Height, clothes, etc. for later.)

1 comment:

Kristen said...

What an awful experience. I have tremendous admiration for how you pursued (even literally!) the matter and didn't stay quiet, and for helping the other women involved.