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Fellow Passengers Did Nothing While a Woman was Raped on Philadelphia Train, Police Say

For eight minutes, a woman was raped in public on a Philadelphia train. According to police, her fellow passengers witnessed the assault but didn’t intervene.

By November 16, 2021No Comments
TRIGGER WARNING
This post contains disturbing descriptions of abusive events. Reader discretion is encouraged.

Last month, a woman was raped in public on a Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority train. According to police, her fellow passengers witnessed the assault but failed to intervene.

Surveillance video shows several other passengers aboard the SEPTA train near Philadelphia, but no one spoke up or called 911.

Andrew Busch, a spokesperson for SEPTA, recounted the chilling events of the attack.

A man now identified as Fiston Ngoy, 35, sat down next to the woman at about 10 p.m. on a Market-Frankford Line westbound train heading toward the 69th Street Transportation Center. Authorities said Ngoy is a person experiencing homelessness, and he was not armed during the attack.

Ngoy “attempted to touch her a few times” while the woman continued to push back. “Then, unfortunately, he proceeded to rip her clothes off,” Busch said.

The sexual assault lasted about eight minutes—and no passengers in the train car intervened.

Related: How Porn Can Fuel Sexual Violence By Lessening Empathy In Consumers

Eventually, a transportation authority employee boarded the train, witnessed the attack, and called 911. Then, “a police officer ran onto the train and caught this man in the act and then took him into custody,” Busch said.

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Timothy Bernhardt, superintendent of the Upper Darby Township Police Department, shared that while the surveillance footage does not contain audio, it’s clear based on the footage he’s reviewed that passengers had the opportunity to intervene.

“I’m appalled by those who did nothing to help this woman,” he said. “Anybody that was on that train has to look in the mirror and ask why they didn’t intervene or why they didn’t do something.”

He added that while there were not “dozens of people” in the train car at that time, there were enough that, “collectively, they could have gotten together and done something.”

Related: Is Rape Culture Real? Let’s Take A Look At The Evidence

Bernhardt also said investigators have received reports of passengers recording the attack on their phones and are working to confirm those allegations. He added that after the police finish their investigation, it’s possible for those who failed to intervene to be criminally charged if they recorded the attack.

Why didn’t they intervene?

So why do some crime witnesses not intervene?

Alexis Piquero, a criminologist at the University of Miami, says there are several possible reasons—including the belief that someone else will step in to help or a fear of retaliation from the perpetrator.

“The onus is really on us as a collective because we can’t always rely on the police. We have to rely on one another.” Piquero also emphasized that by expecting someone else to help, “we’re basically washing our hands and absolving ourselves of that responsibility… We need a world where people are doing the right thing when you see someone assaulted.”

After Ngoy was in custody, the woman shared what happened with the authorities and was taken to a hospital.

“What this woman endured at the hands of this guy, what she’s been able to provide for us, it’s been unbelievable,” Bernhardt said.

Related: 5 Studies That Show How Often Porn Normalizes Sexual Violence Against Women

Ngoy has been charged with rape, sexual assault, and aggravated indecent assault without consent, among other crimes.

SEPTA said that thefts and robberies account for most of the crimes reported on its trains, and that reports of sexual assaults are rare. The Market-Frankford line carries about 90,000 people on an average weekday, according to Busch. SEPTA does not have an officer riding on every train.

He added, “We really do hope that people will read about this, will see the stories on TV, and will think about helping with the efforts to prevent incidents like this from happening.”

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What’s porn got to do with it?

You may be wondering why an organization that educates on porn’s harms is talking about this tragic event.

Let’s be absolutely clear—we’re in no way saying the people on the train didn’t intervene because of porn. Of course, we have no way of knowing why they didn’t step-in. With that said, this assault highlights an important societal issue and one of the many problems with becoming desensitized to sexual assault, sexual violence, and rape.

A growing amount of research shows porn normalizes sexual violence, and that frequent porn consumers are less likely to intervene in situations just like this one.Foubert, J. D., Brosi, M. W., & Bannon, R. S. (2011). Pornography viewing among fraternity men: Effects on bystander intervention, rape myth acceptance and behavioral intent to commit sexual assault. 18(4), 212-231. doi:10.1080/10720162.2011.625552COPY  Foubert, J. D., & Bridges, A. J. (2017). What Is the Attraction? Pornography Use Motives in Relation to Bystander Intervention. Journal of Adolescent Research, 32(20), 213–243. https://doi.org/10.1177/0743558414547097COPY 

Related: Is There A Connection Between Porn Culture And Rape Culture?

Consider that the average internet user spends over 40% of their waking hours online,DataReportal. (2020). Digital 2020 global digital overview. ( No. 1). Retrieved from https://www.slideshare.net/DataReportal/digital-2020-global-digital-overview-january-2020-v01-226017535COPY  and that research shows what we consume has an effect on the way we think and behave—and that includes porn.

An estimated 91.5% of men and 60.2% of women consume porn, and many studies have confirmed the link between porn and sexual violence. See the connection?Solano, I., Eaton, N. R., & O'Leary, K. D. (2020). Pornography Consumption, Modality and Function in a Large Internet Sample. Journal of sex research, 57(1), 92–103. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2018.1532488COPY 

In one such study, researchers analyzed hundreds of the most popular porn scenes and found that 88.2% contained physical violence or aggression and 48.7% contained verbal aggression. Women were almost always the victims.Bridges, A. J., Wosnitzer, R., Scharrer, E., Sun, C. & Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best Selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update. Violence Against Women, 16(10), 1065–1085. doi:10.1177/1077801210382866COPY 

Another study analyzed porn titles alone and found that 1 out of every 8 titles suggested to first-time users on porn sites described acts of sexual violence.Vera-Gray, F., McGlynn, C., Kureshi, I., & Butterby, K. (2021). Sexual violence as a sexual script in mainstream online pornography. The British Journal of Criminology, azab035. doi:10.1093/bjc/azab035COPY 

Related: Does The Porn Industry Really Care About Empowering Women?

Yet another study concluded that 1 in 4 young people have had repeated exposure to depictions of violent, nonconsensual sex within the last year of their lives.Davis, A. C., Carrotte, E. R., Hellard, M. E., & Lim, M. (2018). What Behaviors Do Young Heterosexual Australians See in Pornography? A Cross-Sectional Study. Journal of sex research, 55(3), 310–319. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2017.1417350COPY 

And what’s just as, if not more concerning is the reactions portrayed to the violence that’s normalized in porn. One study found that 95% of the targets of violence or aggression in porn appeared either neutral or to respond with pleasure.Bridges, A. J., Wosnitzer, R., Scharrer, E., Sun, C. & Liberman, R. (2010). Aggression and Sexual Behavior in Best Selling Pornography Videos: A Content Analysis Update. Violence Against Women, 16(10), 1065–1085. doi:10.1177/1077801210382866COPY 

Porn sends the message that violent, nonconsensual sex is pleasurable, desirable, and normal.

Related: Porn Increasingly Normalizes Sexual Violence And Racism, So Why Is It Still So Popular?

Get The Facts

So how is all of this impacting consumers?

Neuroscientific studies show that with repeated exposure to porn, consumers can become desensitized to the content,Daneback, K., Ševčíková, A., & Ježek, S. (2018). Exposure to online sexual materials in adolescence and desensitization to sexual content. Sexologies, 27(3), e71-e76. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sexol.2018.04.001COPY Ezzell, M. B., Johnson, J. A., Bridges, A. J., & Sun, C. F. (2020). I (dis)like it like that: Gender, pornography, and liking sex. J.Sex Marital Ther., 46(5), 460-473. doi:10.1080/0092623X.2020.1758860COPY  and become more likely to sexually objectify and dehumanize others,Mikorski, R., & Szymanski, D. M. (2017). Masculine norms, peer group, pornography, facebook, and men’s sexual objectification of women. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 18(4), 257-267. doi:10.1037/men0000058COPY Skorska, M.N., Hodson, G., & Hoffarth, M.R. (2018). Experimental effects of degrading versus erotic pornography exposure in men on reactions toward women (objectification, sexism, discrimination). The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 27, 261 - 276.COPY Zhou, Y., Liu, T., Yan, Y., & Paul, B. (2021). Pornography use, two forms of dehumanization, and sexual aggression: Attitudes vs. behaviors. Null, 1-20. https://doi.org/10.1080/0092623X.2021.1923598COPY  more likely to express an intent to rape,Foubert, J. D., Brosi, M. W., & Bannon, R. S. (2011). Pornography viewing among fraternity men: Effects on bystander intervention, rape myth acceptance and behavioral intent to commit sexual assault.18(4), 212-231. doi:10.1080/10720162.2011.625552COPY  less likely to intervene during a sexual assault,Foubert, J. D., Brosi, M. W., & Bannon, R. S. (2011). Pornography viewing among fraternity men: Effects on bystander intervention, rape myth acceptance and behavioral intent to commit sexual assault. 18(4), 212-231. doi:10.1080/10720162.2011.625552COPY  Foubert, J. D., & Bridges, A. J. (2017). What Is the Attraction? Pornography Use Motives in Relation to Bystander Intervention. Journal of Adolescent Research, 32(20), 213–243. https://doi.org/10.1177/0743558414547097COPY  more likely to victim-blame survivors of sexual assault,Foubert, J. D., Brosi, M. W., & Bannon, R. S. (2011). Pornography viewing among fraternity men: Effects on bystander intervention, rape myth acceptance and behavioral intent to commit sexual assault.18(4), 212-231. doi:10.1080/10720162.2011.625552COPY Foubert, J. D., & Bridges, A. J. (2017). What Is the Attraction? Pornography Use Motives in Relation to Bystander Intervention. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 32(20), 3071–3089. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260515596538COPY  more likely to support violence against women,Wright, P. J., & Tokunaga, R. S. (2016). Men's Objectifying Media Consumption, Objectification of Women, and Attitudes Supportive of Violence Against Women. Archives of sexual behavior, 45(4), 955–964. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-015-0644-8COPY Seabrook, R. C., Ward, L. M., & Giaccardi, S. (2019). Less than human? media use, objectification of women, and men’s acceptance of sexual aggression. Psychology of Violence, 9(5), 536-545. doi:10.1037/vio0000198COPY  more likely to forward sexts without consent,van Oosten, J., & Vandenbosch, L. (2020). Predicting the Willingness to Engage in Non-Consensual Forwarding of Sexts: The Role of Pornography and Instrumental Notions of Sex. Archives of sexual behavior, 49(4), 1121–1132. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-019-01580-2COPY  more likely to commit actual acts of sexual violence,Wright, P. J., Tokunaga, R. S., & Kraus, A. (2016). A meta-analysis of pornography consumption and actual acts of sexual aggression in general population studies. Journal of Communication, 66(1), 183-205. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/jcom.12201COPY Rostad, W. L., Gittins-Stone, D., Huntington, C., Rizzo, C. J., Pearlman, D., & Orchowski, L. (2019). The association between exposure to violent pornography and teen dating violence in grade 10 high school students. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 48(7), 2137-2147. doi:10.1007/s10508-019-1435-4COPY Goodson, A., Franklin, C. A., & Bouffard, L. A. (2021). Male peer support and sexual assault: The relation between high-profile, high school sports participation and sexually predatory behaviour. 27(1), 64-80. doi:10.1080/13552600.2020.1733111COPY Mikorski, R., & Szymanski, D. M. (2017). Masculine norms, peer group, pornography, Facebook, and men’s sexual objectification of women. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 18(4), 257-267. doi:10.1037/men0000058COPY , more likely to accept rape myths, and can also lead to decreased empathy for victims of sexual assault.

Related: “Hit That”: Do Both Pop Culture And Porn Culture Normalize The Abuse Of Women?

Research also shows that individuals, especially teens, often try to copy what they see in porn in their own sexual encounters.Rothman, E. F., Kaczmarsky, C., Burke, N., Jansen, E., & Baughman, A. (2015). 'Without Porn… I Wouldn't Know Half the Things I Know Now': A Qualitative Study of Pornography Use Among a Sample of Urban, Low-Income, Black and Hispanic Youth. Journal of sex research, 52(7), 736–746. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2014.960908COPY  Many women also report having been forced to perform sex acts the other person saw in porn.Taylor, J., & Shrive, J. (2021). ‘I thought it was just a part of life’: Understanding the scale of violence committed against women in the UK since birth. VictimFocus. Retrieved from https://irp.cdn-website.com/f9ec73a4/files/uploaded/Key-Facts-Document-VAWG-VictimFocus-2021a.pdfCOPY 

Not allowing violence to be normalized

Of course not all porn portrays physical violence, but even non-violent porn has been linked to increased sexual aggressionWright, P. J., Tokunaga, R. S., & Kraus, A. (2016). A meta-analysis of pornography consumption and actual acts of sexual aggression in general population studies. Journal of Communication, 66(1), 183-205. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/jcom.12201COPY —plus it often glorifies other toxic narratives like racism, sexism, incest, and the fetishization of marginalized people.

We want to be very clear—consuming porn doesn’t automatically turn consumers into rapists. Even so, our collective societal outrage for sexual violence also needs to apply to an industry that profits from videos fantasizing very similar scenarios to what happened on that train in Philadelphia.

Related: Does Mainstream Porn Fuel And Normalize Sexual Violence In Teen Relationships?

If we as a society seek to fight sexual violence, especially against women, we also need to expose the industries that normalize it, romanticize it, and capitalize on it. Given the decades of research from respected institutions, it’s clear the porn industry does exactly that. How can that be acceptable?

And what’s more, aside from fantasized violence in porn, there have been many cases of actual sexual violence and assault shared on mainstream sites, with victims sharing how helpless they feel that their moments of violation are consumed for entertainment and arousal.

As one sex trafficking survivor whose rape and assault were recorded and uploaded to Pornhub told us, “I’m sure most of those viewers were not aware that by watching the videos, they were participating in human trafficking, assault, and rape.”

As we continue to face rape culture in our society and work to build a healthier world that does not accept abuse and inequality as normal, it’s essential to recognize the role porn plays in normalizing sexual violence.

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