Riders watched as a woman was raped Wednesday night on a train near Philadelphia, but they did not intervene or call police – some, authorities said, may have even taken pictures and videos while it happened.
Officers reviewed surveillance footage from a Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) train that shows a man board shortly after a woman and sit next to her, according to Upper Darby Township Police Department Superintendent Timothy Bernhardt. The man talked to her, the footage shows, then “gradually” got aggressive, eventually ripping her clothes off and assaulting her.
“He sat next to her for a conversation. . . .” Bernhardt said. “And then he just completely overpowered the woman and forcibly raped her.”
Authorities were alerted by a female SEPTA employee, said Andrew Busch, a SEPTA spokesman. An officer from SEPTA’s police department intervened after the train on the Market-Frankford line stopped at 69th Street Transportation Center in Upper Darby. Between 80 000 and 90 000 people per day ride the Market-Frankford line.
The assault, he said, took about eight minutes – but onlookers did not help the woman.
“If somebody who witnessed this had called 911, it’s possible that we would have been able to intervene even sooner,” Busch said. “Because this had apparently started before the employee who was on board noticed what was going on.”
The suspect, Fiston Ngoy, 35, has been charged with several crimes, including rape and aggravated indecent assault, according to court records. He is being held at the Delaware County jail on $180 000 bail. Once Ngoy was arrested, the woman – who has not been publicly identified – was taken to a hospital for treatment.
“I spoke with the victim yesterday, and she is an unbelievably strong woman,” Bernhardt, the Upper Darby superintendent, said Saturday. “I can’t say enough about her, how she was able to identify her attacker, tell us what happened. Now she’s working . . . to get through this.”
SEPTA’s police officers and several unarmed guards regularly patrol its stations and trains, Busch said. They mainly respond to reports of robberies and thefts. After this sexual assault, he said, the transit authority is considering increasing its security.
For Bernhardt, the most “appalling” part of the event was the lack of empathy displayed by the other individuals riding the train. Investigators are going over the surveillance footage, and police received reports of riders recording video or taking pictures while the rape took place.
“I’m just speechless,” he said. “To be a victim of a crime like this and be victimized a second time is absolutely horrible.”
Bernhardt said there are different steps witnesses can take to intervene. People can call 911, alert the train conductor or scream to distract an attacker.
“I don’t know where we are in society that people can’t help other people out in a time of need,” he said. “If you see something horrendous like this horrible incident, you have to do something, you have to intervene. I think that it starts here when we have to definitely go back to some decency, where we help each other out and we look out for each other.”