Bystanders To 40-Minute Sexual Assault On SEPTA Train Pulled Out Phones Out But Didn’t Call 911, Police Say

A woman was raped while riding a train in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, last week. Police say other passengers riding the train did nothing to intervene. NBC 10 Philadelphia reports authorities are looking into whether witnesses recorded the assault on their phones. The entire assault spanned over 40 minutes, officials say.

Train riders failed to intervene when a woman was sexually assaulted onboard @SEPTA last week. The transit agency is adamant that passengers need to speak up when they see something isn’t right. @6abc

— Christie Ileto (@Christie_Ileto) October 18, 2021

Police do not believe anyone used their cell phones to call 911 in the moment, but pointed their phones in the direction of the assault. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority Police Chief Thomas J. Nestel III hosted a press conference on Monday, detailing the sordid event.

Nestel didn’t give an exact number of witnesses because surveillance video on the train shows many commuters jumping on and off at various stops, but was resolute on the fact that the event could’ve been stopped sooner if someone on the train stepped in.

“What we want is everyone to be angry and disgusted and to be resolute about making the system safer,” Nestel said.“I can tell you that people were holding their phone up in the direction of this woman being attacked,” he said.

Police arrested 35-year-old man, Fiston Ngoy for the rape and aggravated indecent assault, as well as several other related counts. Ngoy and the woman entered the train at the same time after SEPTA police stopped him for harassing her on another train. The affidavit of arrest also reveals the woman repeatedly pushed Ngoy away from her during the 40 minutes. 

According to USA Today, Superintendent Timothy Bernhardt of the Upper Darby Police Department said police responded to a call from a SEPTA worker who reported  “something wasn’t right” with a woman on the train. Bernhardt added that the incident reflects the state of society in today’s age of smart technology. 

“There was a lot of people, in my opinion, that should have intervened; somebody should have done something,” Bernhardt said. “It speaks to where we are in society; I mean, who would allow something like that to take place? So it’s troubling.”

SEPTA released a statement on the incident, calling it a “horrific act.” 

“There were other people on the train who witnessed this horrific act, and it may have been stopped sooner if a rider called 911,” the authority said.

According to a psychology professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Elizabeth Jeglic, most people feel uncomfortable physically intervening in cases like this. However, she added that there are other ways to help aside from calling the police. 

“When we have multiple people, people don’t necessarily intervene,” she said. “However, more recent research actually suggests that, looking at video footage of more extreme circumstances, that [in] up to 90% of cases we do see people intervening. So it was actually somewhat of an aberration in this case that somebody did not step forward to help this individual.”

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