Last week, the New York state legislature passed a bill enhancing the penalties for inappropriate touching "on a bus, train, or subway car." Under the new rule, which has not yet been signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, anyone convicted may be fined $1,000 and sentenced to one year in jail or three years of probation.
Currently, "forcible touching"—which includes "squeezing, grabbing or pinching" someone's "sexual or other intimate parts"—is a class A misdemeanor sex offense while "sexual abuse in the third degree," defined as any "sexual contact without [another person's] consent," is a class B misdemeanor. As such, third-degree sexual abuse carries a maximum penalty of three months in jail and a $500 fine.
The new legislation raises miscellaneous "sexual contact"—defined as the "touching of the sexual or other intimate parts of a person not married to the actor for the purpose of gratifying sexual desire of either party [including] the touching of the actor by the victim, as well as the touching of the victim by the actor, whether directly or through clothing"— from a Class B to a Class A misdemeanor when it takes place on (public or private) buses and trains. "New Yorkers use public transit each and every day to get where they need to go," said bill sponsor Aravella Simota (D-Queens), "and no one should be afraid of being inappropriately touched or groped against their will when they get on the bus, train or subway."
New York City can and does go after subway gropers already for both forcible touching and third-degree sexual abuse. In 2014, for instance, NYPD cops made 128 arrests for forced touching or other misdemeanor sex offenses on the city's subways. But as it stands, the state can only charge those in transit for grinding up against someone or touching that falls short of grabbing with the lesser misdemeanor and the lesser penalty.
Semi-props to Bustle's Emma Cueto, the only mainstream women's blogger I've seen to so much as question how the law will play out in practice. "It's worth wondering who will be targeted by such a law," writes Cueto. "We have seen at least one case recently that suggests police in New York could use women's concerns about men on the subway as a pretext for targeting men of color, which shouldn't be how the law is used." She's so, so close to realizing that how a law should be used has nothing to do with how it will, which is sadly much more critical thought than the Jezebel crowd seems capable of. Even with blogger Clover Hope mis-reporting that sexual contact on the subway would become a felony, commenters were unabashedly enthused, although some worried that there aren't enough police around to enforce the law adequately.