By Guy Hamilton-Smith . . . An effort by New York City officials to address subway sexual offenses like nonconsensual touching and public lewdness is gathering momentum, but their proposals miss the mark and won’t solve the problem. City Councilmember Chaim Deutsch’s office told The Appeal that it is in the process of drafting legislation that would impose a lifetime mass transit ban on anyone with a minimum of two convictions for these crimes, likening a lifetime ban from the subway to a store banning shoplifters. Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio approved of the idea, though they stopped short of expressing support for a lifetime ban and have instead referenced shorter periods of time.
“Two convictions for a sexual assault on a subway, you should be banned,” Cuomo said. “You have people who target victims in the subways and that’s where they go. Many people, crowded areas, certain techniques, that’s where they go.”
Of course, the general problem of sexual harms in our society and the specific problem of assaults such as unwanted groping on the subway are very real, and thus exceedingly important to address. According to the NYPD, there were 866 reported sex crimes on the subway in 2018 alone.
Banishment from mass transit, however, does little to meet this goal, as it reflects a framing of sexual harms that is out of step with reality: Most sex offenses are not attributable to individuals who commit multiple offenses. More than 95 percent of reported and cleared sex offenses in New York State are attributable to first-time offenders. Most people who are held accountable for sexual offenses do not reoffend. In data compiled by the NYPD, most of those arrested in 2016 and 2017 for subway sex offenses had no prior sex offense arrest record, never mind convictions.
Even if one assumes that such a ban could be enforced amid a daily crush of 5.6 million riders, it could not address the vast majority of these offenses. Like our sex offense policies more generally, it gives the public a vague sense that the problem is being addressed, but obfuscates the realities of sexual harms in society and thus undermines efforts to properly address them.