Wroblewski's Instagram feed features images of women who have shared their experiences with sexual harassment on the Metro. So far, 41 people have submitted stories.
Wroblewski's Instagram feed features images of women who have shared their experiences with sexual harassment on the Metro. So far, 41 people have submitted stories.

One day this past fall, Margaret Wroblewski, a 23-year-old parishioner of St. Peter Parish in Olney and graduate of Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, was on the Metro when she noticed a man staring at her on the train. After she stared back at him, he put on sunglasses to hide his gaze, and she got up and moved farther away from him. After he exited the train, he walked around and banged on the window near her new seat.

“I was frozen,” said Wroblewski. “I didn’t know what to do.”

What she did end up doing was posting a photo of the Metro train on her Snapchat story and explaining what had happened. She had about 10 friends respond to her, sharing similar stories about experiences they had had while riding the Metro, which gave Wroblewski the idea to start gathering and sharing these stories.

Wroblewski is a graduate student at George Washington University, studying New Media Photojournalism, and takes the Metro into the city every day. After this experience, she decided to use her photography skills to share the stories of women who have been harassed on the public transportation that she and so many others rely upon to get them from place to place.

“I worry about this all the time,” said Wroblewski. “So I decided I need to do something about it.”

She launched the “I Was On The Metro When…” project in October, and it began to spread by word of mouth from friends to friends of friends. Various news sources covered her project, and people from all over the country began sending in stories.

So far, Wroblewski has had 41 people submit stories to her project, and has interviewed 17 of them. The incidents are all different, but they mostly involve men inappropriately touching women without their consent, men verbally harassing women who want to be left alone, or men videotaping women without their knowledge.

These incidents are particularly unsettling when they occur inside a moving Metro train, because, “You can’t escape it,” Wroblewski said. “You are stuck in there.”

For many women, the incident left them in shock, unsure what to do and sometimes unsure if what they just experienced was harassment. Wroblewski said many times the incidents are “little moments that are very easy to brush off,” but when they happen all of the time, they cause people like her who rely on public transportation to be afraid during their commutes.

Some women decided to seek out a security guard or to submit a report to Metro, but many of them were left unsatisfied with Metro’s response. One woman who sent in a report of what happened to her on the Metro received a response saying, “Thank you for your extremely detailed account of what happened. Our suggestion would be that you do not ride the Metro after 8 p.m., and try to wear sensible clothing on the Metro.”

But as Wroblewski pointed out, harassment “happens in the morning, in the evening, at any time, at any location, whenever you are trying to get somewhere,” and is not limited to incidents occurring during the nighttime or when a woman is wearing revealing clothing.

Wroblewski continues to take the Metro despite the incidents that she has personally experienced and heard about from others, largely because she cannot afford to drive into the city every day, because the costs of a car, gas, and parking are too much. Many commuters, like her, don’t have many other options because they cannot afford to drive or take an Uber whenever they would like to.

“I really think this is a big problem,” said Wroblewski. “For me personally, every time I take a step on the Metro or the bus…there is always a thought in my head that something could happen. I should be able to take public transit without being scared.”

Wroblewski said her time attending Stone Ridge “built the foundation for this project,” both because of the Catholic values it teaches and the all-girls environment.

“The two biggest things I learned from Catholic school is to respect one another and to treat one another as we want to be treated,” said Wroblewski, who also graduated from St. Peter’s School in Olney.

Wroblewski also noted the supportive community that she felt at Stone Ridge, with “girls who would help you no matter what.” That experience has shaped her goal for this project, which she said is to create a community of women, and allow them to “find an outlet for them to express themselves.”

“There isn’t a lot of places for them to do that,” she said.

Wroblewski has gotten a lot of negative feedback about the project from people who think it is a bad idea to share these stories, but she doesn’t let that stop her. Her goal is to continue the conversation beyond when the #MeToo movement begins to fade out of the news cycle, and eventually hopes to raise enough money to be able to travel to interview and photograph people who are submitting stories from farther away.

Mainly, Wroblewski said she wants to let the women sharing these stories know, “people are listening and people care.”

To read the stories in Margaret’s project, or to submit your own, visit https://margaretwroblewskiphotography.com/iwasonthemetrowhen/.