Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Insights on the Yellow Line

A D.C. Metro Station. Image source.

I certainly hope that I will be able to post more regularly in the weeks to come than I have during the last ten days. However, it was quite a hectic - but incredible - week and a half, full of learning about some very difficult issues and exploring our nation's Capitol. I will post more about these two things in the coming weeks, but right now I just want to share an experience I had on the metro that really drove home an issue that I have been learning about for the last few years and especially this week.

My commute home from the office typically begins in the middle of rush hour, so I am surrounded on the metro by other travelers. However, last Tuesday I stayed near work later than usual in order to get dinner with some of the other interns. This meant that when a man got onto the metro behind me, he had his choice of a seat directly across from me and a quiet environment suitable for trying to impress me with his cartoon impersonations.

At first it was slightly bothersome, but when he began to ask for my number and insist that I could be a model, I began to move from annoyance to discomfort. Unfortunately, most women have had to learn how to plan an escape in a situation like this, and can do so the moment they begin to feel the way I was. By the time the metro arrived at my station, I had decided that - if he continued to bother me - I would talk to the gate manager before leaving the metro station. If this didn't fix the problem, I knew that I always had the option of calling 911 to get emergency help.

Here in the U.S., we have the assurance that if you call the police, they will immediately respond in the case of an emergency. This allows people to travel alone with less fear. When I felt that this man on the metro had less than good intentions, I was certainly uncomfortable, but I never reached the point of panic, because I knew that if I felt threatened, there were people who would come to my aid quickly, regardless of my gender or socio-economic status.

This is not the case for millions of people around the world.

The World Bank's report, "Voices of the Poor"found that, "particularly in urban areas, poor people perceive the policenot as upholding justice, peace and fairness, but as threats and sources ofinsecurity. Women report feeling vulnerable to sexual assault by police, andyoung men say they have been beaten up by the police without cause."(source, p. 163) If you are interested in the specific data collected through this research or other topics covered, please read through the report linked above. The researchers involved in the study were particularlysurprised by this finding in particular, however. A working and reliable police force is something wetake for granted, but thousands of women, children, and entire families in poverty do nothave that luxury. They even may have reason to actually fear police involvement.

This is exactly the problem that IJM's efforts around theworld are trying to address. As uncomfortable as the man on the yellow line made me, I never had to fear greatly for my safety, wondering if the police would actually come to help if needed. What's more, I would never dream that the police would use violence against me if I find myself calling on their assistance.

I can't wait to post more about this incredibleorganization that I have the privilege of working for this summer, but for now Iwill leave you with this quote from its founder and CEO, Gary Haugen:

"The failure to respond to such a basic need—to prioritize criminal justice systems that can protect poor people from common violence—has had a devastating impact on two great struggles that made heroic progress in the last century but have stalled out for the poorest in the twenty-first century: namely, the struggle to end severe poverty and the fight to secure the most basic human rights.
~Gary Haugen

(The Locust Effect, p. xiv)

As I've already said - much more to come on this later.

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