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Video: Rape victim slams subway workers

TODAY contributor
updated 4/8/2009 9:33:36 AM ET 2009-04-08T13:33:36

The young woman had been attacked in full view of a New York City subway clerk, then dragged down the steps onto a deserted platform where she was raped and raped again, the assailant not stopping even when a subway train pulled into the station.

Now, after nearly four years of constant nightmares, bouts of depression and anxiety, the woman has been told by a judge that two transit workers who saw her being attacked had no obligation to do anything to help her other than to signal their superiors that police were needed at the station.

In response, the woman, who asks to be identified only by her first name, Maria, is going public with her story in the hope that something will be done to save other women from enduring a similar nightmare.

“Hearing the decision about the case — it broke my heart. It really broke my heart,” the 26-year-old told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira Wednesday in an exclusive broadcast interview in New York. “I was really hoping that changes would be made, that other women taking the subway out there could feel safe and secure. The subway is raising their fares and spending even less money on security.”

The former graduate student said she didn’t expect the ticket clerk to leave the safety of his booth or the conductor of the train that stopped at — and left — the station during her attack to jump off his train to aid her.

“He could have just gotten over the intercom and said, ‘Hey! Stop what you’re doing! I’ve called the cops!’ Anything like that would have helped,” she said. “He didn’t have to get out of the booth. I don’t expect him to be a police officer. But he could have definitely said something over the intercom, or perhaps having a quicker system of notifying the police would have been effective, too.”

Maria, a native of Russia who came to the United States at the age of 7, was 22 years old and two days shy of her birthday when she was attacked. She was a graduate student at NYU looking forward to a career as a writer when she took the Queens-bound G train to visit her boyfriend in Brooklyn in the early morning of June 7, 2005.

It was shortly after 2 a.m. and the car nearly deserted as Maria occupied herself during the trip by listening to music on her headphones and writing in her journal.

“The second I realized something was terribly wrong was that I felt someone touching my feet,” she told Vieira, reliving again the terrifying attack. “I just thought someone had brushed me with their foot, and I noticed that the only person sitting in the subway was sitting in a place where they could not touch my feet. So I realized it was someone touching me with their hands.”

Missed her stop
The train pulled into her station, but, she said, “When I attempted to get off the train, this person touched my feet again, and when I turned back to yell at him, I ended up missing my stop. Then I was alone in the subway car. I was terrified. I couldn’t wait to get off the train at the next station, and just run away from him.”

The attacker dragged Maria down the stairs onto the train platform, where he raped her.
Maria got off at the next station — 21st Street in Long Island City in Queens. She sprinted for the staircase that led from the platform to the upper level. As she reached the top of the stairs, she saw a clerk in the attendant’s booth. At the same time, her attacker caught her, wrapped her in a bear hug, and started to carry her bodily back to the deserted platform.

She told the judge in the civil suit she filed against the Metropolitan Transit Authority that she and the clerk looked at each other for a full five seconds.

“I actually was thinking, ‘Oh, thank god, I’m saved. Someone’s here that can help me. This is going to be done in no time and I’m finally safe,’ ” she told Vieira.

The clerk pushed a button that notifies central command that a police officer is needed. Maria said he could have gotten on the intercom and scared the attacker off. But he did nothing else as she was carried to the bottom of the stairs screaming and crying.

Threatening her life
“After he pulled me down the stairs, he proceeded to rape me at the bottom of the stairwell,” Maria said. “I was screaming and crying and begging him to stop. He said, ‘If you continue screaming, I’m going to have to do something.’ I couldn’t stop crying, so then he took me by the scruff of my neck and my jacket and put me over the tracks, like a 45-degree angle, and said, ‘Don’t scream again or I’m going to let go.’ ”

During the attack, another train pulled in and departed. She caught the eye of the train’s conductor. He, too, notified the command center that police were needed. But he didn’t stop the train or do anything else to stop the rape.

At the civil trial, the judge who ruled for the MTA concluded that the clerk and conductor “had taken prompt and decisive action” in calling for help and had complied with work rules.

Her attacker has never been caught.

The MTA issued a statement that said, “It is important to note that while NYC Transit workers are trained to the highest degree of professionalism in their assigned jobs, they are not and should not be expected to perform in the capacity of law enforcement officers.”

“I was never expecting them to be police officers,” she told Vieira. “They could have stayed in their booth and gone over on the loudspeaker and said something. In terms of it being prompt, by the time the cops had actually got there, 10 minutes later, I had been assaulted twice.”

As the police arrived, the assailant fled the station and has never been apprehended.

After the assault, Maria attempted to continue to work toward a graduate degree. But she had panic attacks when she rode the subway and had to quit school. She is still in intensive therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

Video: Rape victim slams subway workers (on this page) But she has found that speaking out has been therapeutic.

“The most important thing for me was breaking the silence and telling my story, because it was just haunting me and eating away at me. I was kind of a zombie, walking around with this enormous weight on my shoulders and blaming myself,” Maria said. “The more I got to speak out about my story, the better I felt. The most wonderful thing was that other women would start to come forward about their own stories that they had never told anyone else.”

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She said she has forgiven her attacker, but not the MTA.

“Unfortunately, the man who assaulted me was obviously mentally ill and psychotic,” Maria said. “He probably had no basis of reality. He didn’t have a conscience, but the transit worker did. He was a human being capable of feeling emotions as I was. I just felt that it was so coldhearted and just completely abominable to basically look the other way.”

Maria’s lawyer, Marc Albert, joined her on TODAY and told Vieira he’s not done fighting.

“We’re going to appeal,” Albert said. “The transit authority claimed to be training their workers. There’s no training going on here and there’s no system in place. We certainly will be appealing.”

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