No one really wants to see it, be around it or, quite frankly, talk about it, but it’s something that many CTA riders have witnessed, and it should be addressed: masturbation on trains and buses. There, I said it.
So what do you do if you see someone auditioning their hand puppet in public? While it might be easier to just ignore the harassment, move seats or move to another train car, it is against the law, authorities say. Both the CPD and CTA suggest immediately calling 911 or notifying a CTA bus or train operator.
David Burke, a 29-year-old Rogers Park resident, recalled seeing a semi-circle of people keeping their backs toward someone near a window while riding the Red Line. After he glanced past them, he noticed a man touching himself inappropriately and decided to confront him, calling him out for his lewd behavior.
“We're pulling up to Belmont and someone on the train car had pushed the conductor button. I don't know how they got there so quick, but the conductor finds our car and there are two police officers who simply point at the guy and then point back in a ‘you, come with us’ motion,” Burke wrote in an email. “Needless to say, there was a relief in the car, just not the one we were dreading.”
In the first half of 2015, there were 11 reported incidents of public indecency, which is equivalent to 1 for every 23 million rides, according to the CTA. Then again, those are just the cases that are reported.
“We routinely share information with the police, who, in turn, investigate. Over the course of 2015, we have had incidents of public indecency, but our camera footage has aided in arrests,” CTA spokesman Jeff Tolman said.
A person caught masturbating or exposing their genitals in a public place could be arrested for indecent exposure, which is considered a sex offense and public indecency, according to police. In 2015, there were 24 reported incidents of public indecency at CTA locations, which included CTA buses, bus stops, trains, platforms and stations, and 14 arrests were made related to those incidents.
And it never hurts to be reminded of CTA’s ongoing campaign, “If it’s unwanted, it’s harassment”—something Maura Foley, a 27-year-old Avondale resident, couldn’t agree with more.
Foley said she’s witnessed people masturbating on public transit a number of times and feels it’s an example of the type of harassment that women face on public transit. She once called out an offender on her morning commute on the Blue Line, stopping him from sexually harassing—or possibly even abusing—another female passenger.
“He had his shirt over his pants and his hand under his shirt, his dick was out underneath the shirt. At first I wasn't sure, but it made me really uncomfortable. Then he edged up right to some girl's back/butt (they were both standing, I was sitting looking at them) so I called out to him, 'What the fuck do you think you're doing?' " Foley said. "He bolted from the train at the next station.”
For your safety, it is best to immediately get away from the offender and not to approach them, according to Chicago Police. Try to make note of what bus route/rail line you’re on, the rail car/bus number, a description of the offender, their clothes and whether you see them exit at a stop, and call 911, according to police.
After a social media callout to our readers, it's clear to me that this happens more often on public transit than we’d care to admit (or remember). But it never hurts to know what to do if you happen to catch someone in the act.