A public awareness and safety campaign promoted on 1,500 Metro buses to victims and bystanders has led to sexual misconduct report numbers tripling, according to King County officials.
The “Report it to Stop it” campaign began last year, in a joint effort to increase reporting numbers and reduce unwanted harassment and sexual misconduct on public transportation.
The incidents are often underreported. And regardless of gender, race and age, passengers can be targets of unwanted touching and comments, harassment and other lewd behaviors.
The campaign empowers people to seek assistance or support from law enforcement, bus operators or the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center (KCSARC).
“We put offenders on notice and made it clear that sexual misconduct is not acceptable on public transportation or anywhere,” said King County Metro general manager Rob Gannon, in a news release. “This whole program is about empowerment – empowering riders and bystanders and bus operators to report sexual misconduct. These initial results mark clear progress, but our goal is to end sexual misconduct on public transportation in our community.”
Transit system sexual misconduct reports tripled from 2017 to 2018, jumping from 59 to 178 reports of misconduct. In 2019, Metro Transit Police received 68 reports from January through March.
During the first 12 months of the effort, spanning from spring 2018 to March 2019, the King County Sheriff’s Office received 224 sexual misconduct reports originating from the Metro transit service.
Broken down, these numbers included incidents of indecent exposure (99), assault with sexual motivation (59) and sexual harassment or stalking (40).
“We continue to rely on reports from the public so we can identify and investigate suspects, which is essential for seeking justice for victims and stopping repeat offenders,” Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht said.
Since the campaign launched, 40 cases have led to arrests and 24 are part of ongoing investigations. The remainder of reported incidents either hit dead ends or no crime could be clearly determined.
Investigations have led to at least three repeat offenders being charged and convicted: one person for indecent exposure, one person for fourth-degree assault with sexual motivation and another suspect named in multiple reports was arrested for three separate incidents and is now awaiting charges.
About 17 suspects were suspended from riding Metro bus service.
KCSARC reported 33 cases involving Metro services since the campaign began. More than half of the survivors from the cases received services from KCSARC, including legal assistance while reporting incidents to police.
“The campaign removes barriers to reporting sexual violence and sends a strong message to survivors that their reports will be taken seriously,” said Mary Ellen Stone, executive director of the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center. “We are pleased to partner with Metro on this campaign, and hope other law enforcement agencies are paying attention to this promising result.”
In total, from 2018 to present, detectives forwarded 43 cases to prosecutors — including 14 felonies and 29 misdemeanors. And 37 charges have been filed in superior, district and municipal courts for incidents from January 2018 through April 2019.
“Thanks to this public awareness and action campaign, people who rely on King County Metro services are more likely to report sexual misconduct and harassment incidents,” said King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg. “By working together with law enforcement and King County Metro, we’re doing our part to prioritize and prosecute these cases to keep our transit system safe for everyone.”