No One is Talking
The SFPD & Me: A Follow Up To My Story About Sexual Assault on Muni

The Story of My Sexual Assault on Muni in San Francisco

Something happened to me yesterday that has happened to millions of women in cities all over the world. This is my story of sexual assault on public transportation, a bus in downtown San Francisco:


I was sitting in a seat by the window across from the rear doors with headphones on, listening to music, being careful to hide my loaner phone in my purse after I had my iPhone stolen out of my hand last week. A man sat down beside me in the empty seat.

I did what I usually do and quickly, discreetly sized up my seatmate. He was a disheveled middle-aged man with blonde hair that was either dusty or graying. He smelled strongly of alcohol on his breath, body and clothes. He didn't smell like piss and weeks upon weeks of not showering, like other unfortunate people who sometimes take the bus, but he looked like he was swiftly headed in that direction. This man was clearly intoxicated and behaving strangely. He swayed in his seat and repeatedly made the sign of the cross, which is highly disconcerting, let me assure you. When women would board and stand next to where he sat he would try to engage them. They would quickly move away. I should have followed them.

He tried to engage me as well. My defense was to aggressively ignore him on the very crowded bus by staring out the window and keeping my headphones on. I had just three stops to go. When he tried to talk to me (words I couldn't hear due to the music) I shook my head no and held my hand up, flattened, to signal that I wished to be left alone.

Muni Bus

The bus continued to lurch down busy Market Street. I pulled the cord to signal that I wanted off when the bus was due to stop again at 5th and Market.

I stood a few seconds before the bus came to a halt, a clear indiction that I was getting out and off the bus. When the bus stopped the man to my right swiveled his legs around rather than stand, so I took a wide step to get around him and as I did he grabbed me between my legs.

Without thinking I turned and swung my heavy purse containing a server's book, a hardback journal and loose, sharp pens at his head, but barely connected. I think the purse grazed his face. I screamed FUCK YOU, also without thinking, and fled off the bus.

I stepped down onto the concrete platform, my head swimming in a raucous tide. A young man beside me asked what happened. "He grabbed me between the legs," I told him. 

The young man shook his head. "And that man said, 'What?,' like he didn't do nothing."

My legs moved forward in spite of myself. I was floating down the sidewalk on Market Street trying to comprehend what had just happened. I was trying hard not to vomit. I felt ill; I was physically revolted. I shuddered and tears collected in the corners of my eyes. 

My lip quivered as I crossed the busy mall to the elevator that would take me to the restaurant where I work. Everything was foggy. My feelings were foggy and my vision was foggy and my mind was foggy. I couldn't believe what had just happened, and I couldn't believe how awful it made me feel. 

As I hit the button in the elevator for the 4th floor I realized for the first time I'd been sexually assaulted. I'd considered whether or not this was a big deal, checked the facts against my feelings and decided that yeah, it kind of was.

I walked into the restaurant in a daze. I walked over to put my bag away when my friend Leo put up his hand to give me a high five. I blurted out, "I was just sexually assaulted on the bus."

I told Leo and Marc more specifically what happened and the embarrassment rose in my face and the revulsion in my gut. I sat down at Table 100, put my forehead on my forearm, burying my face, and cried really hard.

Poor Leo and Marc stood there mostly silent. "This fucking city," was certainly uttered, as were several I'm sorries. They were both very comforting in their presence, but they seemed at a loss for words. And who can blame them?

"Do you want a glass of wine?," Leo offered. I looked down at my hands and they were shaking.

"YES," was my emphatic reply.

He went and poured a hefty glass of gruner veltliner, my favorite, and handed it to me. "Here. Slam this."

And I did. It helped immensely. My nerves were completely frayed and I was a mascara-y mess and I had a new two-top at Table 49. I freshened my make-up in the bathroom and by the time I took the couple's drink order the wine was kicking in and my nervous system began to unclench slightly. 

I made iced tea for the lady at 49 and waited for the bartender to pour a Trumer when I felt the first bubbles of boiling anger begin to rise within me. I was moving through the stages of grief very quickly. Suddenly I was fucking pissed.

I wanted to punch someone--specifically the asshole who grabbed me between my legs. Just typing that sends puke rising into my throat. I can recall with precise accuracy the sensation of his hand between my legs and I'm not sure I'll ever forget it. It felt like wrongness and violation and horror and evil. 

Marc, the sous chef, sensed my anger. He stood watching me fume.

"Is it too soon to make a joke?," he asked, knife in hand.

"It's been 15 minutes," I said. "I think it's probably overdue."

He grinned. "I'm going to say I was sexually assaulted, too, because I could really use a glass of wine right now."

I laughed and laughed and was grateful for the levity. And the wine.

As my shift continued I thought more about what had happened. "I was just wearing my work uniform," I thought. "It wasn't even anything..." I stopped myself before I could think it all the way. I was about to consider what I'd been wearing in trying to process what had happened to me. 

After urging from others I decided to go to the police precinct and report the crime today. I was reminded that there are cameras on Muni buses and that there might be viable video of him touching me. Even if not, these crimes are grossly underreported and even one more record of this kind of assault might mean more police presence in the future.

So, after my short lunch shift this afternoon I took a cab to 6th and Bryant to the Southern station to file a report. I took a cab because the next bus was reportedly 47 minutes away and I felt unsafe walking. That happens when you've had your crotch grabbed on public transit and the police precinct is in a sketchy-ish part of town. 

I entered and told the security guard I was there to report a crime. He told me to walk to a counter where officers were protected behind thick plastic or glass. I had to use a phone to talk to the policeman on the other side.

"I'm here to report a crime. I was groped on the bus."

"What happened?"

"I was groped on the bus. He grabbed me between my legs as I was exiting."

"Where did he grab you? Sorry, but you have to be more specific."

"He grabbed my vulva." I tried to tamp down my embarrassment.

"Okay. What do you want to do? File a report?" His tone made his words sound more like, "Are you serious? You came all the way down here for this?"

"Yes," I told him. Yes, I wanted to file a report.

He asked for more information. I gave it to him. He told me to wait. Then he came out and spoke with me face to face.

"We have two options here. We have a Muni task force. We can give them this info and they can be on the lookout for this guy. Or you can file a full report, but it won't do anything."

He made sure to tell me this guy wouldn't be caught even if I filed a report. For a moment I hedged. For a split second I considered not filing a report. He nearly convinced me. Then I remembered what I came there to do.

"I realize this guy probably won't be caught, but this crime is underreported and I want to do my due diligence and make sure this one is. And if it means more police presence later, then even better." He did not agree with me; he said nothing. The amount of sympathy he managed could fit into a thimble.

I waited more. While waiting with no where to sit for many minutes. I considered the infirm or pregnant or elderly women who would be very physically uncomfortable waiting to file a similar report. With nothing to be said of the emotional discomfort.

Finally I was given a slip of paper with my case number on it. I was told that usually sexual battery requires "skin on skin contact," but that that was how my case would be labeled. He told me I could follow the case online.

I initiated a hand shake. He finally, finally mustered that he was sorry this happened. He told me to be careful. It sounded a lot like, "don't let this happen to you again."

A less confident woman would not have filed this crime report for sexual assault. I know this, because I nearly didn't.

I have a lot more processing of emotions to do before I write more about what happened to me and how the situation was treated by SFPD. Plus, there is more to be revealed with how this case will be handled. But I wanted to write about this now for my own therapeutic reasons, but also to shine a light on a crime that happens regularly and that just might be downplayed by the people in charge of our safety. 

If this happens to you I urge you to report it to the police. Do not let them convince you to walk away without filing a report. Being groped against your will on the subway or bus or anywhere is sexual battery, and you deserve to stand up and have your assault counted.

More soon.

Comments

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I just got tears in my eyes. And then I got pissed. I'm so so sorry. If you need another glass of wine, let me know. We're probably overdue to meet in real life anyway. You're in my thoughts. xx, daisy

Good for you for having the courage to write this. I hope this helps even just one person have the courage to do the same. I wish you healing and strength.

I'm so sorry this happened to you. It's horrible and nobody should experience it. I work in the same general neighbourhood and realise how easily this could happen to me or any other woman.

And I'm beyond angry that you didn't get more support from our police while reporting this. Even if statistically they aren't likely to catch him, they could at least summon up a little sympathy. :( Good on you for reporting though--you are right, it is under-reported.

And finally I'm glad you had friends to give you a glass of wine when needed. I hope they will continue to be there for you.

Brittney, I am sorry that you, or anyone, should be accosted so very inappropriately. And I'm sorry that I was not there to gob-smack the mofo right proper.

I am teeth-gnashingly outraged!!

That's due largely to reading what I consider to be some of your very best writing here in this post.

Be strong, be well, and keep the wine handy.

As a new follower of your writings, I'm deeply saddened that this kind of bullshit happened to you. As a man, I'm ashamed to be raising my daughter into this kind of world.
I'm sorry he did that to you.

I applaud you filing the report. That kind of report has nothing to do with the officer who took it or the current social complicity we have for this kind of thing. It has everything to do with making a case for a reality we have difficulty acknowledging but we must face. You added fuel to a future fire.

I'm so grateful to you for sharing this. I wish I'd done something when it happened to me. I have no doubt it will help someone else speak out.

Your post and every other one like it makes me seethe with anger. Anger at the man who did this to you, anger to whoever raised him to think and behave like that, anger at the society that accepts said behavior and allows it to go unpunished and anger at the police to behave in such a callous and uncaring way.

It also makes me desperately want to hand you a glass of wine and tell you it will be ok and that what you did took courage and that every report, even if not followed up on by the police, helps.

For what it's worth, and I am sure you've been told this by your friends and family, if this assault lingers and is causing you continued anguish, depression, anger, etc., there's absolutely nothing wrong with speaking to a professional.

I hope you can put this behind you and get back to your regularly scheduled life. That man doesn't deserve to continue to have an effect on you.

I'm really glad you filed that report, even though the police don't think it will do any good.

Silence does no good, either.

I'm so sorry this happened to you. Disgusting.

I witnessed something similar on Muni.

It was a crowded ride home on the No. 5. We were all crammed together and a woman about 4 feet away from me started screaming that a man put his hand up her skirt. She then began to fight back against this man. The guy tried to get away from her but there we were all crowded together and no one could move. She kept hitting him and he was muttering over and over again that he was sorry.

The bus driver pulled over at the next stop and seemed annoyed by the whole thing. The woman told the bus driver that she wanted to file a report.

The bus driver said "this is going to put me way behind schedule." I got off the bus at the next stop. So did the man. He just walked away. A few weeks later, I recognized him again on the No. 5.

I hate Muni. I've taken up biking to work instead.

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good (wo)men do nothing." Damn, Brittney, it hurt to read this account. You did the right thing and I am thankful that you are encouraging others to do the same.

Next time, aim better with the purse ;)

First, I'm really sorry this happened to you. Your account of your story is horrible. The way victims of crime are treated in this "innocent until proven guilty" land of ours is simply despicable. You are an amazing person who doesn't deserve this. No one does.

Second, kudos to you for being strong and reporting it. I'm curious though. Your post sounds as if you were given an either or option. Either file with the Police OR file with Muni. I used to live in the city, and this doesn't at all sound like an either/or situation. I would encourage you to file a report with Muni as well.

It makes me so angry that this happened to you! Hell, I'm angry that it happens to anyone. That is truly horrible.

Good on you for reporting it, bad on the officer for not being very sympathetic. Usually, when a police officer is seeing someone, they are seeing that person on what is probably the worst day of their lives. You'd think that they would be a little kind

I'm so sorry this happened to you. Reading your account makes me feel sick to my stomach. What a harrowing experience. Please know that you did everything right - from the hand up posture to not allowing yourself to go down the path of "what was I wearing, did I provoke this" to reporting the assault. I hope I'm never in this situation but if I was, I'm not sure I'd be strong enough to follow through on filing a report, especially wile talking to a less-than-supportive policeman. I hope SFPD catches wind of this and uses it as a case for what not to do.

I'm so sorry this happened to you :( What a disturbing experience. *hug*

I am so sorry. This makes me sick on a number of different levels, but mostly that your story is not an unusual one. It has happened to me as well.

I applaud you for calling attention to your attacker, filing that report, and putting up with an officer who didn't seem to care. You're brave. I sincerely hope the SFPD takes note of this. It's a hard crime to report and it's underreported because of what you went through.

Wish I could help you in the wine department.

As I read this article, I experienced that horrible rush of heat, revulsion, and stomach-turning you get from hearing stories like this. I am so glad you had the courage to report your assault!

When I first moved to San Francisco, I was excited to live near Haight Street. Then, as I experienced more and more incidents, I was filled with rage. Punks would shout revolting sexual things at me, whether my husband was with me or not. What good was filing a report, I wondered. Now I just avoid walking down the street.

There needs to be accountability for verbal and physical abuse against women. Right now our society has reached a point of apathy, thinking there are "more important" issues at hand. Violence against women is a foundation for many of the problems we face.

I'm glad you reported this. Not only to make the statistically unreported go reported, but also if it helps you feel more like you DID something more to fight back, even after the act.

While some people (esp police) may view this as a "petty crime" (no pun intended), I see groping as a "gateway act" to rape, in the same way that murderers often first display their tendencies through unreported acts of animal abuse. The freedom they learn practicing a less prosecutable act may embolden them to be more serious abusers. Nip that shit in the bud!

And just like animal abuse eventually worked its way into the sights of criminal justice, with more reporting, perhaps the type of assault you experienced will someday be treated with the seriousness and public outrage it deserves.

This shit is fucked up! Brittney, stop dealing with this MUNI bullshit and get on a bike. You can listen to your music while riding and no one will steal the phone out of your hand or assault you while you're biking. Do it! MUNI sucks!

There's a lot I could say, but I'll keep it simple and thank you for talking about this publicly. This post is an act of bravery.

Brittney,
I am sorry to hear about your experience at our district station. We regret the traumatic and humiliating experience you underwent, and we agree that your encounter with the station counter officer could have and should have been handled differently. The SFPD prides itself on treating sexual assault and battery victims with concern and sympathy. The experience you have described is not to the level of service that SFPD is known for.

San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr

Thank you very much for your kind comment and for reaching out. It makes me feel a lot more at ease about the safety of myself and my friends and neighbors to read that SFPD encourages reports of assaults and asks that their men and women do so with care.

Thanks again.

Here via my friend Jeff McClure, who tweeted this link.

I'm so sorry to hear about this, and I really hope you're doing better now. I also want to say that I think it's great you were able to report this to the police.

I wasn't going to comment until I saw other comments - I'm really sideeying the hell out of people who are giving you advice on how to avoid assault in the future and while they're not doing it intentionally, praising you for being brave enough to report it to the police has the side effect of implying that women who don't report assault to the police are cowards. Commenters, women should not have to do ANYTHING to avoid getting assaulted. Brittney shouldn't have to change her routine, she shouldn't have to avoid MUNI, she should be able to do whatever the fuck she wants without fear. When you suggest she needs to do something else to avoid assault, you shift the blame onto her. Second, women often have perfectly good reasons for not reporting their assaults. If you can do it, that's really great, it probably won't result in an arrest but it improves the accuracy of assault statistics. But if you can't do it for any reason, that's okay too. Women reporting assaults are often humiliated and shamed by police officers - is there any wonder a woman who's already been hurt might not want to be further victimized by the legal system?

Brittney, sorry for ranting all over your comments section. Like pretty much all women I know, I've been there. Best of luck to you. Take care of yourself.

Kyla, I have to strenuously disagree that helping women to avoid assault is wrong or shifting the blame onto her.

In a perfect world, no woman would need to do anything to avoid sexual assault. Absolutely. But we don't live in a perfect world. We should strive for that perfect world but, in the meantime, how about we help women protect themselves too?

To use a bad analogy, you can take steps to eliminate the fox population near your farm but you'd still better put a fence around the chickens. Putting the fence up doesn't shift the blame onto the chickens; it's not their fault they're being targeted by predators.

Brittney, I am so very sorry. What an asshat!

Thank you for being brave enough to tell your story, and thank you for being brave enough and persistent enough to file a police report, despite discouragement from the officer. Only if women (and men) like you are brave enough to come forward, will we have a hope of stopping this thing.

If I can give you a hug I would! I know how you feel because several years ago, I was sexually assaulted by a middle school kid on the K going outbound. I was reading when this punk ass kid came up to me and pressed his groin into my shoulder and said "all pleasure." I was furious and got up and told the bus driver. The driver stopped and asked the kid if he did that, but his female companion jumped in and denied it. The bus driver then tells me that he couldn't do anything because that girl said he didn't do it! The punk kid and his friends started screaming at me that snitches die. I was terrified that if I got off the bus, the kids would follow me so I was forced to stay on until they got off. I was extremely upset and was crying on the bus.

I later filed a report with SFPD and I pretty much got the same reaction you did. I wasn't satisfied so I called MUNI and filed a complaint too. I learned that it was really important to get the bus number otherwise there isn't much they could do, at least according to MUNI. I also learned that you should swing your elbows because it can deliver a really hard blow and you can pass it off as an accident. Don't be afraid to put on your bitch face on.

Thank you so much for sharing your experience and filing a report. I admire strong women like you. :)

I'm sorry Kyla, but I'm suggesting to someone a method of improving their daily experience by advising her to use a bike instead of dealing with MUNI. it has nothing to do with her gender - I would advise the same if a man posted two MUNI horror stories within two weeks. I'm not shifting the blame onto Brittney, I'm giving her a piece of advice that is devoid of male/female specificity. Please do not coopt my pro-bike message.

wow, i came to this from muni diaries and just wanted to let you know how messed up that is. i hope that you get to feeling stronger and confident and hopefully the shitty exp-erience that you went through - and blogging about it - will hopefully help others who might be in your shoes one day.

big hugs.

Hi Brittney,

I was linked to this post through MuniDiaries (which I have to give kudos to for regularly reporting instances of assault on MUNI). Everyone has already expressed the sentiment I wanted to, but I'm still very saddened and enraged about what happened to you.

A few years ago I was a victim of sexual battery in SF -- not on MUNI, but still in a very public place with tons of people around on a busy sidewalk in Chinatown. Nobody did anything. After the incident happened the police were called and I was barely able to get the words out of my mouth to describe what had happened (a man masturbated onto the back of my leg). The officers wrote down their report and I was brought to the station to have evidence collected (on my clothes). All the officers had to say was that they were sorry and "next time" I should do something different like yell out if I saw someone exposing themselves. There was, I think, a follow-up call a few weeks afterwards telling me to fill out a form describing the incident in detail and send it back to SFPD. I ended up not doing it because at the time I was overwhelmed with trauma and anxiety, and understandably didn't want to recount or relive the incident ever again. I think that was the only instance the SFPD tried to contact me afterwards. I never got any word on the results of the DNA testing of the evidence (if they even DID the test, which I highly doubt).

Reflecting on it retroactively, I feel like there should have been more of an effort to get in contact with me and get the full story after I had calmed down a little, especially because I was a minor when it happened; I wouldn't be surprised if my batterer had a habit of preying on other kids/teens.

To the SFPD Chief above this comment: how are cases of sexual assault/battery usually handled; or rather, how are they supposed to be handled? It seems like from Brittney's story and the stories of other commenters, they're not taken very seriously. This is a huge problem, to say the least.

You're courageous in your actions, and even more so in publishing your account so that those in similar situations won't feel like they're alone and do the right thing.

A similar situation happened to me. A few weeks ago, a classmate loaned me his phone to make a call. I accidentally clicked on something I shouldn't have, and an image of a young boy's genitals filled up the screen. I quickly exited out of it and returned the phone. As the mother of a litle boy, I felt so disturbed and could not turn a blind eye to it.

I reported it to the South SFPD as soon as I could, which was after the weekend. I basically got the same response. The receptionist told the desk officer why I was there, and he greeted me with his arms across his chest, didn't say a word, and looked at me like I was the criminal. So I told him in one sentence why I was there, and he said child pornography is a felony, my name will go on the report, the guy I'm reporting will find out, he might accuse me of putting the image on his phone, I may have to go on the witness stand and be cross examined, etc. etc. Basically gave me every reason to walk out the door even before I told my story. So I said, "I'll think about it and get back to you." I really just wanted to run out the door and not be involved at this point. Then he got his supervisor, who started the actual report. They took the report, searched the guy, and nothing came up, case closed. My conscience is clear, but I'm still disturbed and stand by what I saw.

I understand the police deals with a lot of wackos on a day to day basis, but there are also concerned citizens among us who want to do the right thing. They really need sensitivity training. Thank you for your post and for shedding light on not only the Muni problem, but also the police problem as well.

Brittney - this is very important. Muni only keeps the on-board video for THREE DAYS. After that it is recorded over and lost forever! Please please please, call Muni immediately and report to them. They have an entire investigative department of their own.

Hugs to you - how admirable that you are not letting this slow you down.

Good on you for having the courage to write about this! MUNI buses have cameras but their utility is almost completely negated by the lazy, corrosive and abusive reactions of SFPD reps when people try to report crimes that may have been filmed. I know a man who is 87 years old who was sucker-punched in the face by a teenager on a MUNI bus. The kid then laughed and stepped off the bus. When I heard about it that afternoon, I said "You've got to report this- there was a camera that might have caught it!" He said, with the wisdom of experience, "The police don't care what happens to an old Chinese man like me." I insisted, and took him to Mission station to file a report, offering to act as his translator. To my astonishment, he was totally correct about their attitude. Unlike your case, however, nothing I could say would convince the officer on duty to take a report. I felt shame and disgust at having made my friend walk out on a limb (Chinese people are always paranoid about dealing with cops) in the misbegotten belief that the police would care enough to do their jobs. The police culture in this city is a travesty.

It really blows that women are taught that above all, we should be polite and pleasing to others. I've seen this sort of thing happen on MUNI many times where a threatening dude sits down next to a girl or woman, and the woman stays seated because they are afraid to possibly offend the a-hole sitting next to them. Ladies: just get up and move away from the creeps and don't give a shite for their feelings.

Brittney, 4 years ago, I was rather violently sexually and physically assaulted whilst walking home from work at midnight on 15th and Shotwell, a dark, empty street in a dicey neighborhood. A drunk and very smelly street person knocked me down (and I'm 6 feet tall!), slashed my collarbone with a knife, and sat on me while he tried to jerk off. I was dazed for about a minute while this was happening, then became almost psychotically enraged, and pure adrenalin allowed me to push this guy off of me and run away. I called the police when I got home, and after about 3 weeks, they caught the piece of human garbage who was wanted for 5 other assaults. He's doing some serious time now. (Kudos to the awesome Mission Precinct officers who kept in touch with me almost every day, even coming to my work to show me "six packs" of suspects.)

One thing that surprised me about the whole thing was that I was repeatedly told again and again that this incident would likely give me PTSD, and would forever be the worst thing that happened to me; a scar upon my feminine soul forever. I went to the counseling provided by the city, and I just didn't feel the terror of the situation that everyone said I was supposed to feel. I was told that "it would hit me later", but it never really did. I was pissed off for a month or so, and then it went away. I know that this is not true for everyone, but I was a little taken aback by the alarmist nature of the counseling--that I was a sad victimized female and it would haunt my womanhood forever.

I wish you speedy healing--from someone who's been there.

I saw this article about the same thing happening to a teenager in Medesto and thought about your blog. Very different outcome.

http://sacramento.cbslocal.com/2012/09/19/homeless-men-save-teen-from-sex-offenders-alleged-attack/

Brittney,
Thank you for your post. What's the point in having a policy that protects people from filth if its not enforced? Sadly, its our job to hold public officials and authority to uphold their duty and do their job.
Its not just San Francisco where the attitude "You really want to file a report, because nothing will be done" from law officials.
Wilminton, NC, 2006. I was held up ad gunpoint at the on premises laundry mat at my apartment complex. I gave lip service-the attitude and demeanor that I was broke and narrowly paid a traffic fine and my boyfriend was in jail (oh those lies we tell to save our own lives).
After him leaving to say "don't tell anyone about this" I called and filed a report.
I got a follow-up about a month later from a detective with some ID-sheets for me to look at. I picked the right person. I was politely informed that he has a record and lives near by. I respond by saying "when do you pick-up someone in cases like these?" The detective laughed "They don't go get someone. IF he commits ANOTHER crime...." My enthusiasm for resolve quickly went away. I politely asked the detective to please get the hell out of my home. He was puzzled. I had to explain that he just told me the person I positively identified lived within walking distance and there were to be nothing done.
Thank you again for bringing awareness to something that taxes are supposed to be protecting us with.
~L

I'm so glad you are speaking out about your experience. I found your blog via this report:

http://edition.cnn.com/2012/10/06/living/street-harassment/index.html

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