The message on the simple poster in bold black letters immediately grabbed the attention of Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner at a rally Saturday prompted by a recent sexual assault on a SEPTA train:
RAPE IS A REAL CRIME
Muntaha Afri, 14, of Upper Darby, had made the poster the night before and trekked with her parents and younger brother to an afternoon gathering at Dilworth Plaza in Center City, where organizers showed support for the victim and demanded better security on public transit.
Krasner pulled Afri from the crowd to stand in the spotlight. Others held signs, too, that said “Save women Stop Rape” and “Enough is Enough.” Afri, a sophomore at Upper Darby High School, said she hoped her message was well-received.
”I hope that rape is talked about,” she said. “I want people to know that it is not OK to stay silent.”
Krasner doesn’t have jurisdiction over the assault, which occurred in Upper Darby, and declined to comment on the case. Like other local officials at the rally, the prosecutor said he wanted to show that “when there is a terrible incident, we all come together.”
The event was organized by the Pennsylvania National Organization for Women in response to the sexual assault, which made national headlines and generated widespread shock and disgust.
Led by Nina Ahmad, the chapter president, activists joined in calling on SEPTA, law enforcement, and elected officials for more security, accountability, and transparency. Among their demands, they are seeking live monitoring of cameras on public transport; more trained social service personnel at stations, trains, and buses, and education of passengers about an app to report violence and an emergency call button.
Authorities said the female passenger was seated next to her alleged assailant on Oct. 13 while riding for more than a half hour before the assault began. Authorities said many passengers who entered and exited were likely unaware of what was happening during the encounter. Initial reports that passengers took cell phone video and did not intervene or call the police were later debunked.
Fiston Ngoy, 35, was taken into custody by responding SEPTA officers after the train pulled into the 69th Street station in Upper Darby. He was charged with rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, and sexual assault.
SEPTA general manager Leslie S. Richards told the crowd on Saturday that the transit agency has already started addressing many of the concerns raised at the rally. Plans include hiring more police officers and issuing a SEPTA cell phone to its 282 custodians.
A new contract agreement SEPTA announced Friday with members of its Transport Workers Local 234 to avert a strike did not address security. Union members had sought better security on the SEPTA system given recent high-profile crimes and assaults.
”The rape that occurred on the Market-Frankford Line train was a heinous act,” Richards said. “We need to act now and act together to prevent that from happening again.”
Teresa White-Walston, co-executive director of Women Organized Against Rape, agreed, saying: “We can stop sexual assault. We can do it. But it will take the community.”
After the speeches, the activists boarded the train to the 69th Street Terminal in Upper Darby, where another rally was planned. Their campaign flier said, ”We stand with her.”
”This is a solidarity ride,” Ahmad said. “This is where it happened.”