Graduate student uses photo series to expose sexual harassment on Metro

Media Credit: Jack Borowiak | Staff Photographer

Margaret Wroblewski, a graduate student in the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design, has spent the past month photographing and interviewing women who have faced harassment in the Metro as part of a photography project.

Alongside brightly colored maps and advertisements, one graduate student wants to post her photos of women who have experienced harassment where the incidents occurred – the Metro.

After Margaret Wroblewski, a graduate student in the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design, experienced sexual harassment on the Metro for the second time, she decided to bring attention to her story and to others with similar experiences. For the past month, she has been photographing and interviewing women who have faced the same harassment in the Metro as part of a project to show them that they are not alone and expose the scope of the problem.

Wroblewski started releasing photos from the project on an Instagram page she created this week. She said when she completes the photo project she wants to display it in an exhibit and in Metro stations to push people to recognize the issue.

“It would be incredible to get blown up pictures of these girls and their quotes, as many as possible in the Metro station,” Wroblewski, who studies new media photojournalism, said. “So when these men walk through the Metro they see the stories and it serves as a reminder.”

The project, called “I was on the Metro when…,” will feature more than 50 portraits of women and an individual quote detailing their experiences with sexual harassment, as well as facts and statistics about harassment on D.C.’s Metro.

Women featured in the project have experienced everything from verbal harassment to an incident where one man used his phone camera to look up a woman’s skirt.

Reported cases of upskirt photo taking, a form of sexual harassment that often occurs in crowded areas like the Metro, have increased by 70 percent around the DMV since 2015. Groups involved in the study said many of the cases took place in Metro stations or on the trains.

After the first time she was harassed, Wroblewski said she was tired of feeling unsafe and posted about her frustration on Snapchat, where she received several responses from friends saying they had been in similar positions. After the second incident, she was inspired to start documenting these instances through photos and interviews.

“Photography is really powerful,” Wroblewski said. “I think you can tell great stories and I want to tell these women’s stories because I don’t think there’s any other better medium.”

Alicia Hai, Wroblewski’s high school classmate at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, Md., was one of the women that responded to her post on the app. She said when they met to discuss their similar experiences, she found “solace” knowing she wasn’t alone.

“The first thought I had after my own experience on the bus was ‘was it or wasn’t it harassment?’” Hai said. “At the time, I was in high school and I didn’t really know what to think of what had just happened.”

Hai said Wroblewski is using her negative situation to create positive change, which is “powerful.”

“For women and men who have been in these situations where they feel like they have no control, Margaret is allowing each participant of this project to regain their agency and control back,” Hai said.

Megan Bottino, who attended college with Wroblewski, said she got involved with the project because many think street harassment – like catcalling – is “normal,” and she wants that narrative to change.

“Without someone pointing out how awful it is, harassment will never end,” Bottino said. “Hopefully, if we yell loud enough, maybe people will start listening.”

Wroblewski said the most recent time she was harassed occurred on a red line train leaving the Farragut North Metro Station about a month ago after she had class in the Flagg Building. A man taunted her and refused to stop staring when she asked.

Although the project only began in October, Wroblewski has already received both positive and negative acknowledgement. After NBC Washington covered her story, Wroblewski said some of the comments questioned her claims of harassment while others showed support.

Referencing a soundbite from the video where she was detailing one of her experiences, one male commented “Staring. At. A. Woman. Is. Not. Harassment.”

Though she was upset by the response, Wroblewski said responses like that are not uncommon.

“I understand his point, it’s not physical, no man is physically hurting me,” she said. “But the situation still made me uncomfortable and that’s why it’s so hard to report these issues because these little scenarios happen all the time.”

Wroblewski said she understands the topic is sensitive, but she wants to encourage all women to submit their stories to keep a record, even if they do not want to be photographed. Along with the photography, Wroblewski wants to collect enough data to one day make an interactive online map so women can easily see where others have experienced harassment.

“It’s about making women feel safer,” Wroblewski said. “Hopefully if they see these quotes they will realize they’re not alone.”

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