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Too many creeps see opportunity on buses, trains

Updated: August 5, 2012 6:06AM

Public transportation can be a blessing, but as commuters know, it also can be a curse.

Crowded buses and dirty train cars are just the beginning. Sexual harassment can be an issue, as is sexual assault in the form of unwanted touching, indecent exposure and public masturbation. This is especially true in Shanghai, China, where sexual harassment on public transportation has reached critical status.

In response to this crisis, Shanghai metro authorities posted a blog on its website urging women to choose their clothing more thoughtfully. According to the authorities, revealing clothing from short skirts to low-cut tops encourage “perverts” and women should instead dress with “self-dignity.”

Their response is problematic for many reasons. For one thing, it perpetuates the idea that victims somehow hold a degree of blame for their sexual assault. In other words, if a woman dresses too revealing, or has too many drinks at happy hour, or takes the train late at night by herself, she is “asking for it.” Not only is this response shaming and deeply harmful to women who have experienced rape or assault, it also creates the idea that men cannot control their sexual urges.

Instead of placing the blame on the actual perpetrator (the sexual predator himself), we paint the male community with a broad brush, assuming that they are all animals with sexual needs they can’t (or won’t) control and that every woman is at risk when a man is around.

Of course, both suppositions are false. Most men would never dream of harassing or assaulting a woman, and victims are never to blame when they are assaulted. Not only is this victim-blaming, but it also assumes that conservative clothing is the answer, which it simply is not.

There are many reasons why certain men prey on women in this way. Sometimes these predators are suffering from deep-rooted sexual issues known as paraphilic disorders. Paraphilias occur when an individual is sexually aroused by activities or stimuli that are generally considered disruptive, offensive, or illegal by most of society, such as exhibitionism (the desire to expose oneself to an unsuspecting person) or frotteurism (the desire to touch or rub against someone without their consent).

Unfortunately, crowded train cars and busy commutes offer the perfect opportunity for individuals with such disorders to victimize unsuspecting women. This is why female-only cars (such as those in Mexico City and Tokyo) can offer a safe opportunity for women.

Paraphilias are not the only cause behind such criminal behavior. Much of it also has to do with the fact that we live in a society in which women are objectified and degraded. Sadly, some men look at women and see a body, not a human being. Across the globe, society still allows and perpetuates these harmful and base ideas, and as a result, women continue to be victimized by men who don’t realize or respect their boundaries and autonomy.

It’s also important to increase surveillance and security, and to increase penalties for this type of assault. Most importantly, authorities must be made to understand that it is never a victim’s fault when she is assaulted. Until we respect one another and treat each other with dignity and equality, I fear that women will continue to be seen as easy marks for such harassment, whether they are in Shanghai or right here in Chicago.

In fact, according to a survey led by the Rogers Park’s Young Women’s Action Team, more than 50 percent of respondents said they had been sexually harassed on the CTA, and more than 13 percent had been sexually assaulted. Sadly, many of these women did not report their abuse. If you experience such an assault, report it to the CTA by speaking with one of the personnel or sending an email to http://www.transitchi

The bottom line is that public transportation might come with its share of issues, but fear of sexual assault should not be one of them.

Dr. Berman is the star of “In The Bedroom with Dr. Laura Berman” on OWN and director of

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