Two transit workers did not attempt to stop the rape of a 21-year-old woman on the platform of the G train at the mostly deserted 21st Street station in Long Island City early Tuesday morning.
The attacker, who had an apparent foot fetish, assaulted the woman on the train and then followed her into the station just before 3 a.m.
Transit workers at the station—the token booth clerk and the conductor of an incoming train—saw the incident and heard her cries. Each individually called for help, but neither left their post, either in the train or the token booth, following Metropolitan Transit Authority protocol.
According to police, the woman’s attacker came up to her on the train and brushed her foot. After she moved to another seat, he followed her and then tried to lick her feet. She missed her Greenpoint Avenue stop while fending him off, and then ran out at the 21st Street station to get help.
The conductor driving a passing G train, Harmodio Cruz, saw the man dragging her into a stairwell. He called the incident in but said the train was too far out of the station to stop and help.
The victim was unable to get out of her assailant’s grip and was raped on the stairway.
“I swear if I could do it all over again, I would have stopped the train … and stopped the guy,” Cruz told the Daily News. “I felt helpless. I felt bad. I felt guilty.”
The token booth agent also saw the scuffle and heard the woman’s cries. He called for help, but he did not leave his post either, following MTA protocol.
MTA spokeswoman Deirde Parker said the transit workers acted as they were trained; the police arrived on the scene in nine minutes. Token booth workers are advised not to leave the booth because sometimes a commotion is staged to lure an agent out, either to assault him or her, rob the booth or both.
The woman was taken to Elmhurst Hospital and treated for her injuries. She was able to give police artists a description of her attacker, whom they said is a light-skinned black man with a moustache in his 20s, about 5 feet 8 inches and around 160 pounds. He was last seen wearing a black jacket, khaki cargo pants and a camouflage hat.
Since October, there have been at least two other reports of a man assaulting women on Queens subways by fondling their feet. “We tried to see if there was any connection,” said NYPD Detective John Sweeney, “and found that there wasn’t.”
It hasn’t gone unnoticed by commuters who use the 21st Street G station that the platform is often deserted and feels unsafe. “This subway station is kind of creepy,” said a woman in her 40s who uses it daily to get from her home in Richmond Hill to her office in Long Island City.
“I don’t usually go down to the platform until the train comes,” she said, while waiting on the mezzanine in view of the token booth. “In here you wait for a while too,” she added, “like 15 minutes.”
Even at rush hour, the platform of the train doesn’t have more than a half-dozen riders waiting for a train in either direction. “It just seems to be deserted,” said Amelia Power, a Greenpoint resident who uses the line to get to and from midtown. “I don’t use it at night.”
Michele Vigeant, a director at Safe Horizon, a non-profit violence counseling and prevention organization, cautioned the public against blaming the victim. “It’s really important to know that someone can’t prevent a sexual assault.”
The group advises general safety practices like travelling in pairs, leaving an uncomfortable situation immediately and calling for help. “The harm reduction strategy is to call for help,” she said, “but it only works if people are willing to help.” She called the token booth protocol “very unfortunate.”
Safe Horizon offers free and confidential counseling services. Vigeant urged victims to call the Safe Horizon hotline at 212-227-3000.
“Every three minutes someone in this country is made a victim of sexual assault,” she said, adding that rape is one of the most underreported crimes.