The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority is beginning a new campaign to raise awareness of sexual harassment on the subway in the hopes of reducing the number of incidents. Highlighting the need for such a campaign, WCBS news, WNBC, the Daily News and scores of other media outlets have cited a 2007 study which found that 63% of women reported being sexually harassed and 10% saying they had been sexually assaulted while on the subway.
Based on this shocking statistic, it would seem that there is an epidemic of molesters running amok in the Big Apple's underground. There's only one problem - the statistic is totally unreliable. As was previously reported more than a year ago by both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post, the study's methodology was fatally flawed. As a result, the 63% figure which has been so widely circulated likely grossly overstates the actual extent of the problem. This type of sensationalistic reporting has become so widespread that many don't even question how improbable these statistics sound any more.
Undoubtedly, steps should be taken to deter the victimization of women on the subway. Rather than starting a scare campaign based on bogus statistics, however, it would be more constructive to promote a campaign based in fact, which encourages and empowers women to deter this type of behavior by forcefully confronting it. As noted in the WCBS story, the failure to confront offensive behavior only invites further attacks - whether on women in the subway, or on their male counterparts through the media.