Sex crime reports on metro rides triple; deputies say new campaign is working

SEATTLE -- Bringing awareness to the problem of sexual assault and harassment on public transit was never going to be easy.

But King County sheriff's deputies believe the new "Report it, Stop it," campaign is a big success, given the number of reports.

Since last April, Metro Transit Police saw 178 reports of sexual assault on buses. That's up from 59 over the same period the year before.

King County Sgt. Ryan Abbott said the uptick in reports is just what the agency hoped for last year when the program started.

Studies show that "mass transit sexual misconduct has been underreported significantly" in the past, said Chief Dave Jutilla of Metro Transit Police. The more people are encouraged to report, the more they will. More reports is not indicative of more instances, Abbott said.

The campaign includes signs on buses encouraging passengers to tell the driver if they are a witness to or victim of assault. The signs also provide a number to call to have transit police meet a victim ASAP, sometimes as early as the next stop.

"That's what this campaign has done and really pushed for," Abbott said. "Making sure the victims feel safe and come forward and report these crimes."

The most common cases of sex crime on transit are indecent exposure cases, Abbot said. Other examples include unlawful imprisonment, stalking, sexual assault (rape, indecent liberties), simple assault, groping or grabbing passengers, rubbing up against someone in a sexual manner and other harassment/threats.

Officials said it does not have to be a crime to report it.

Arrests are often made because of the high quality cameras present on most buses.

"We're able to see a lot of these crimes perfectly because of the cameras," Abbott said.

He said the King County Prosecutor's Office has made prosecuting sex crimes on transit a big priority.