When news first came out that a woman had been raped on a busy train in Philadelphia last week, it drew nationwide attention and outrage because police said bystanders did nothing to intervene. The police even suggested that the attack was filmed by some residents.
The case’s district attorney refutes that accusation.
At a press conference Thursday, Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer said it’s not true that people sat on the train and “watched this transpire and took videos of it for their own gratification.”
Stollsteimer said witnesses who were on the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority should come forward to share information about what they saw. It is legal in Pennsylvania not to witness an act of violence and not interfere. Stollsteimer stressed that anyone who witnessed the attack will not face prosecution.
Analyse:Experts say the Philadelphia train rape was horrendous, but we are missing something in our outrage
Instead of seeing a “sparsely packed train”, the district attorney depicted a scene in which passengers were getting on and out as they witnessed the interactions between suspect and victim. According to him, people who hopped on or off trains might not know what was happening at that moment and could be witnessing a rape being carried out.
Two people were believed to have recorded at least part the incident. Stollsteimer also acknowledged that one witness has video. Stollsteimer said that CCTV footage obtained from SEPTA showed the entire attack, and it will prove convincing during the prosecution.
Authorities claim that Fiston Ngoy (35), harassed and raped the victim through more than two dozen stations last week. SEPTA authorities also said at a press conference earlier this week that officers responded within three minutes of the lone 911 call they received — from an off-duty transportation employee.
Police said they believed no one called authorities, and they were investigating whether any of the witnesses may have recorded the incident. Police claimed they were concerned at the absence of intervening and that witnesses had seen the incident.
At the Monday press conference, Thomas J. Nestel, Chief of SEPTA Police said that there were witnesses to the attack with their phones in their hands. “People held their phones up to the woman being attacked,” said Nestel.
“There were a lot people that, to my knowledge, should have intervened.” Somebody should have done something,” Superintendent Timothy Bernhardt, of the Upper Darby Police Department, told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “It speaks volumes about our society, and the people who would permit something like this to occur. So it’s troubling.”
Stollsteimer stood with Bernhardt as top prosecutor. Bernhardt’s statement that witnesses “callously” recorded the crime contradicted Stollsteimer’s.
“People in this region are not, in my experience, so inhuman and callous human beings that they’re going to sit there and just watch this happen and videotape it, as one journalist said today, ‘for their own private enjoyment,'” Stollsteimer said.
According to him, people behave more like a woman, who intervened in an incident at SEPTA station Wednesday night and helped the victim after she called for help.
He said, “When people are in need of help, they stand up to help.”
Some people have made comparisons between police and media in their initial reactions to the 1964 killing of Catherine Genovese. Genovese (a 28-year old bartender) was attacked and killed outside her New York City Apartment.
The New York Times published a story, based on early police accounts, claiming that 38 people witnessed the attack and did nothing, prompting research into the “bystander effect.” For decades, the case was featured in psychology textbooks.
The number of people involved in the incident was probably exaggerated. There was also evidence that someone had tried to assist or called police.
It is possible that this was the case for the Philadelphia train. Stollsteimer refused to reveal the exact number of passengers on the train who may have been witnesses to some or all the attacks. Stollsteimer maintained that Thursday’s priority was to assure witnesses they won’t be charged and encourage them to give their accounts.
USA TODAY asked SEPTA to not view the surveillance video of the October 13th attack. SEPTA refused, citing ongoing criminal investigations.
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