Blind user of public transit system denounces sexual harassment
By Alejandra M. Jover Tovar
Special to The Star
Alba Toro Rivera has spent three years living a nightmare.
The social worker, who is blind from birth, depends on the “Call and Ride” program (“Llame y Viaje” in Spanish) to get to her daily activities. Still, instead of feeling safe, she’s faced sexual harassment from one of the program’s drivers on four occasions (three this year).
Nothing’s been done on the part of the Metropolitan Bus Authority (AMA by its Spanish acronym) to put a definitive end to the situation.
Visibly upset and crying, Toro Rivera said at a Monday press conference that she is fearful and traumatized every time she has to call for service. Even though the agency said the driver wouldn’t be assigned to her again, and she filed a complaint against the man, he has been able to reach her four more times. And every time, the only way she knows it’s him is when she’s on board the vehicle and recognizes his voice.
“Call and Ride” is a program for disabled users like Toro Rivera. She fears her harasser could be accosting other passengers, and she still doesn’t feel safe.
“This means that this person who harassed me has had four opportunities to have contact with me even though I notified the Call and Ride program and even though there was an internal guideline; that guideline was violated on four occasions,” the social worker said.
“I must tell you that between the most recent incidents, the severity of the harassment became more severe,” Toro Rivera said. “People told me that I had to file a complaint as if that were a condition to protect me.”
“I filed the complaint this year, and the program determined that my allegations of sexual harassment could not be corroborated,” she added, visibly frustrated.
“They [Call and Ride] said that, nevertheless, they warned the driver to in the future exercise ‘prudence, and courteous and respectful treatment,’ terms that do not come close and do not describe what I alleged,” she said, baffled that the driver continues to work in the program even after she filed her complaint.
Toro Rivera elevated her complaint to AMA’s higher management, the Office of the Women’s Advocate and other agencies, but has been met with indifference, she said.
“The most alarming part of this situation has been the indifference and its effect: the impunity with which the harassers go unpunished when a complaint is filed with the government of Puerto Rico,” she said.
The STAR tried unsuccessfully to get a reaction from the Department of Transportation and Public Works.
A coalition has united to protect Toro Rivera and other riders like her who depend on a service that’s supposed to keep them safe. The movement “Somos Los Ojos de Alba” (We are Alba’s Eyes), so people who see or hear acts of violence, discrimination or harassment against vulnerable populations raise their voice and report the situation.
“We demand that every driver be recurrently trained on the public policy against sexual harassment, especially if they are drivers [against whom there has been a complaint],” said Ángel Quiles of the Socialist Workers’ Movement, through a press release. “We demand that those who run the Call and Ride program take all necessary actions to send an unequivocal message that the agency repudiates any practice that constitutes sexual harassment and to ensure a safe space for people with disabilities, senior citizens and all those who use the service.”
To be part of We Are Alba’s Eyes, call 787-274-1032; 787-763-2473 (TTY for the deaf) or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.