Dominique stood on a Mexico City subway platform on a recent afternoon. She was just steps away from the special area designated for women and children, but she was going to board a regular mixed-sex carriage. She felt safe because she was with a male friend.
Once in the car, a stranger got close.
"He grabbed my ass," the 21-year-old recalled. "He did it even though he saw I was with a man. I got really angry and slapped him, but nothing else happened."
Last month the capital's authorities decided it was time to show they care about stopping rampant sexual harassment against female commuters in the Mexican capital by flooding the subway system with 1,200 police officers dressed in pink vests. The city government said the force is being deployed at stations throughout the network during the morning and evening rush hours.
"Groping usually takes place during peak times," said a spokesman at Mexico City's Public Security Secretary. "Our aim is to stop these uncomfortable situations for women from taking place."
The new special anti-groping force on the subway was announced after thousands of women took to the streets on April 24 to demand an end to gendered violence of all kinds.
Many wore purple, some carried pink crosses, and others wore clothes with simulated blood stains. The main slogan was "We want to stay alive." Banners proclaiming "No means no," and "If one of us gets armed, all of us will respond," were common.
Protesters took to the streets April 24 to demand an end to gendered violence of kind. (Photo by Hans-Maximo Musielik/VICE News)
The days before and after the protest were also marked by the popularity of the hashtag #MiPrimerAbuso or #MyFirstAbuse in which women told a huge variety of stories about violence and harassment.
A March report by the Mexico City government commission created to provide attention to victims, estimated that almost two thirds of women older than 15 years old have suffered some kind of violence. The vast majority of the victims, it said, do not file complaints.
"All of my decisions revolve around my condition as a woman. Sometimes I want to wear certain type of clothes and I can't do it because it might lead to unwanted attention," said 26-year-old Itzel, as she made her way through a busy subway station in Mexico City's downtown. "I don't even feel safe in the women-only wagons."
The designation of special areas designed to make underground transport a harassment-free haven for women in Mexico City date back to the 1970s, though it wasn't until 2000 that the authorities officially banned men from the two front carriages.
When this didn't solve the problem the authorities implement the Viajemos Seguras, or Let's Ride Safe, program in 2008. This was supposed to provide a more effective system for filing complaints and a heavier police presence to deter aggressions.
Even so a report this year by the Inter-American Development Bank, entitled "The Relationship Between Gender and Transport," stated that 40 percent of the women who took part in the study said they modified their clothing choices based on whether or not they use the public transit.
Users say that part of the problem is that going to the authorities with complaints is all but pointless.
'All of my decisions revolve around my condition as a woman. Sometimes I want to wear certain type of clothes and I can't do it because it might lead to unwanted attention'
"They do nothing about it and the pervert can escape without punishment," said 20-year-old Brenda who said she had suffered sexual harassment several times and received no response from the police despite reporting it.
As she waited for a train at the Insurgentes subway station, 23-year-old Karen said she had never considered reporting incidents.
"I have never considered going to the authorities, because it's the man's word against mine. And they can lie and say they were not doing anything," she said. "I doubt the new measures will help, sometimes the policemen are the ones who harass you."
Lawyer Karla Micheel Salas said it is clear the the few number of women who file reports about sexual harassment has to do with the time it takes, the complexity of the procedure, and the fear of being mistreated.
"The whole thing is designed for the victim to give up," said Salas. "There's an insistence from authorities for the victim to reach an agreement with the attacker, and in most cases that means an economic agreement."
'I have never considered going to the authorities, because it's the man's word against mine. And they can lie and say they were not doing anything'
Salas said that there are between 300 and 350 sexual assaults against women in the subway every day, adding up to more than 126,000 per year, but only 300 complaints a year.
The lawyer added that this low level of reporting takes place despite the fact that cases of sexual assault in cases in which the victim suffers direct physical contact or is forced to watch something he or she wouldn't want to, are considered as felonies if they take place within the public transit and the attacker is directly taken to jail.
The potential punishments are lower if the crime takes place in another public place, such as the street, as happened to one of her clients, a freelance foreign correspondent and VICE News contributor named Andrea Noel whose case is viewed by many as a classic example of the way women who report assaults are ignored, belittled, criminalized or even attacked.
Noel was walking along a street in a trendy Mexico City neighborhood in March when a man ran up to her from behind, lifted her skirt, and pulled down her underwear. She then obtained security-camera footage that showed the moment and posted it on Twitter triggering a cascade of misogynist comments and even death threats.
Her case also became famous because she revealed the many obstacles she faced when reporting the incident, such as questions about what she was wearing, and a psychological profile she was told was required.
"My case will remain unpunished. The only reason why I went ahead with the complaint was because I wanted to know the procedure," said Noel. "I wanted to show how it's impossible to solve this type of crimes. The victim has the odds against her, because she receives a load of hate from everyone."
The media storm around Noel's case was partly responsible for sparking the current wave of attention to the issues for sexual harassment and assault in the capital, as well as moves such as the pink-clad police officers currently roaming the subway.
Women riding the trains, however, didn't seem convinced by the new police presence.
1,200 police officers dressed in pink vests have been deployed at subway stations throughout the city during the morning and evening rush hours. (Photo via Secretary of Publica Safety)
"They are only putting more police officers because of the pressure people are putting on the government now," said Dominique. "I doubt it will change anything."
'I wanted to show how it's impossible to solve this type of crimes. The victim has the odds against her, because she receives a load of hate from everyone'
Abigail, a 22-year-old woman, said she also doubted that the new drive was more than a public relations exercise.
"They [policemen] just stare at you and don't move a finger. They don't think it is a big deal, and they make you think it's best to keep silent," she said before descending into the subway. "Sometimes I even feel like harassment is normal, and if all women suffer it, why should I complain? I doubt it would do anything for me."
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