When a man raped a woman on a Pennsylvania train last week, the rest of the car reportedly looked on without doing anything to help: Local police say none of the passengers attempted to intervene or called 911 during the roughly eight-minute attack. According to NBC 10 Philadelphia, it was a Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority employee who walked into the situation, saw what was happening, and called the police. They arrested 35-year-old Fiston Ngoy, charging him with rape, sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault without consent, and other related crimes.
“I’m appalled by those who did nothing to help this woman,” Upper Darby Township Police Department superintendent Timothy Bernhardt said Sunday, per the New York Times. “Anybody that was on that train has to look in the mirror and ask why they didn’t intervene or why they didn’t do something.”
A spokesperson for SEPTA told the Times that Ngoy “attempted to touch [the woman] a few times” after approaching her around 10 p.m. on October 13 on a Market-Frankford Line train. Although the woman tried to stop him, “he proceeded to rip her clothes off.” While Bernhardt did not specify exactly how many people stood by during the rape that followed — it wasn’t “dozens of people,” he said — he explained that surveillance footage indicated there were enough witnesses that “collectively, they could have gotten together and done something.”
The victim was taken to the hospital, and Ngoy is being held at the Delaware County Jail. As for the bystanders, Bernhardt reportedly said any of them who recorded the assault could face criminal charges too. But on October 21, Delaware County district sttorney Jack Stollsteimer strongly refuted that idea, casting doubt on the previous police account. “There is a narrative out there that people sat there on the El train and watched this transpire and took videos of it for their own gratification,” he said at a press conference where, according to NBC 10 Philadelphia, Bernhardt also appeared. “That is simply not true.”
“People get off and on at every single stop,” Stollsteimer added. “That doesn’t mean when they get on and they see people interacting that they know a rape is occurring.” Although two people might have filmed the attack on their phones, he granted, he emphasized that no witnesses would be charged in connection with the incident. So far, only one person has spoken with investigators, which may help explain the divergent rhetoric here. “What we’re trying to do is gather everybody who witnessed anything that night — without fear of being prosecuted — to come forward,” Stollsteimer said, reportedly pinning blame for the “misinformation” on SEPTA.
Still, there is the original description of the rape to consider: The physical struggle and the forcible removal of clothing both sound like interactions that could reasonably raise a passerby’s suspicions. The fact that multiple people seemingly saw these things happen and failed to react feels questionable, whatever justification the DA might offer for their inaction. “There were a lot of people, in my opinion, that should have intervened,” Bernhardt told CNN affiliate WPVI earlier this week. “Somebody should have done something.”
This article has been updated.