Subway Assault Goes Viral
In early November Nicola Briggs made news when she accused 51 year-old, Mario Valdivia of sexually assaulting her on the subway home. Briggs accused Valdivia of masturbating on the train, pushing his body against hers, and attempting to keep it all concealed by covering his waist with his messenger bag. With unrelenting poise and confidence, Briggs called out, demanding the full attention of fellow passengers, ordering the train conductor be called, and her assailant escorted to the police.
A cell phone video of the event hit the internet, attracting over half a million views. At first laughter can be heard in the footage, as if bystanders were taken aback by Brigg's forthright attitude. Then the laughing stopped. It was clear her actions were nothing to joke about.
According to a survey by RAINN.ORG, a leading national anti-violence organization, 60% of rapes or sexual assaults go unreported to police. The survey also states that when a woman does report assault or rape to the police there’s only a 50% chance any action will be taken and an arrest will be made. If an arrest is made there’s only 58 percent chance the defendant will face jail time. “15 of 16 walk free,” reports RAINN. But Briggs drew public attention to Valdivia to make sure he couldn’t escape the train. She got fellow passengers to help her block the doors and make sure he stayed put until police arrived. Calling attention to her circumstances was the first step in dealing with the bigger problem at hand--making sure that sexual assault cases do not go ignored.
Briggs's actions extended beyond the context of her specific situation. If you know or feel something is wrong and are in a safe enough context to address it, it's your duty to do so, if not for yourself, then for someone else who may not able to. It might sound obvious but no one else was helping Briggs until she started making noise. Fortunately, she was able to speak for herself.
Making a public act of self-defense in the face of fear or violence takes courage. From watching, reading about, and meeting people who do so I've realized that they do so to make sure no one has to experience what they did again, to try and stop the crime from being repeated. Fear of safety or public perception can sometimes prevent people from saying what they are screaming inside to say. But it’s an important step. Briggs' actions led to the arrest of her assaulter, a repeat sexual offender. Her story is a reminder to pay attention to acts of violent sexual assault and to what takes place around you, regardless of the offense. Her video shows 500,000 people who are doing just that. I thank Briggs for making heard what she could have kept silent: her voice.