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Passengers Who Failed to Intervene in Train Rape Could Face Charges

People allegedly took pictures and videos in addition to not intervening when a woman was being raped on a Philadelphia train.

Andreia Nobre
Andreia Nobre

On October 13, 2021, a woman got on a train at night in Pennsylvania, and soon after her, a man boarded the same train. According to surveillance footage retrieved by officers from Upper Darby Township Police Department, the man sat next to her, started a conversation and got “gradually aggressive.” The video is claimed to show the man subsequently “ripping her clothes off and assaulting her.”

The information released by a police Superintendent, Timothy Bernhardt, is gruesome. “He just completely overpowered the woman and forcibly raped her,” stated Bernhardt.

Meanwhile, the same statement reveals that passengers riding on the same train car did nothing about it, and some might have even “taken pictures and videos while it happened.”

Allegedly, the only person who came to the woman's rescue was a female Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) employee, who was on board of the train and noticed what was going on. The employee alerted the authorities after the train on the Market-Frankford line stopped at 69th Street Transportation Center in Upper Darby, where officers from SEPTA Police Department finally intervened.

A society that watches a woman being raped and does nothing is in serious trouble, according to Bernhardt. “For Bernhardt, the most 'appalling' part of the event was the lack of empathy displayed by the other individuals riding the train,” said a piece by the Washington Post. The superintendent is quoted as saying, “I don’t know where we are in society that people can’t help other people out in a time of need.”

“If you see something horrendous like this horrible incident, you have to do something, you have to intervene. I think that it starts here when we have to definitely go back to some decency, where we help each other out and we look out for each other.”

According to the Washington Post, “between 80,000 and 90,000 people per day ride the Market-Frankford line.” Security camera footage reveals that the car where the attack occurred had many other passengers, and they might have been aware of what was happening because some were spotted filming it. Andrew Busch, a SEPTA spokesman, said in the same piece that “If somebody who witnessed this had called 911, it’s possible that we would have been able to intervene even sooner.” Busch also said that the attack apparently started “before the employee who was on board noticed what was going on.”

The story got even worse when it was revealed that the suspect, a 35 year old man, had already been charged with several other crimes prior to the attack on the SEPTA train. The charges against Fiston Ngoy resemble those of Wayne Couzens, Sarah’s Everard killer.

According to court records, Ngoy is accused of rape and aggravated indecent assault. Why was this man still at large? The whole assault on this woman on a train at night in Pennsylvania took about forty minutes, according to the Independent. Forty minutes to fight off a man who “completely overpowered her.” Forty minutes of agony that will stay with the woman for the rest of her life.

“To be a victim of a crime like this and be victimized a second time is absolutely horrible,” said the police superintendent, Timothy Bernhardt.

The suspect was arrested and is currently being held at the Delaware County jail on a $180,000 bail. The female survivor of his attack has not been publicly named. After the arrest, she was taken to hospital for treatment, has identified hear assailant and reported the rape. Bernhardt, the Upper Darby superintendent, said on October 16 that he spoke to the victim the day before, calling her ”an unbelievably strong woman” for being able to “identify her attacker, tell us what happened.”

“The suspect, a 35 year old man, had already been charged with several other crimes prior to the attack on the SEPTA train.”


Many women, however, won’t be able to report and get justice for the crimes committed against them. Many survivors do not report sexual or physical violence because there are no witnesses or material evidence of the crime. In addition to that, even when there is good evidence, such as a video footage of the incident, they might not be believed.

In an insult to those women who do report, the justice system allows serious sex offenders to be at large and reoffend after being charged. The police itself often discourages women from reporting, or doesn’t take their reports seriously and archive them. Sometimes, the force doesn’t investigate properly - there are thousand of rape kits that have never been tested in the US - or they blame the victim for being assaulted. Shockingly, there will also be times when a female survivor reports male sexual violence and male police officers sexually assault her, or use their police badges to access victims.

The case in Pennsylvania may, allegedly, cause a change in security procedures in the future, according to the officers who spoke to the press. “SEPTA’s police officers and several unarmed guards regularly patrol its stations and trains,” says the Washington Post piece.”They mainly respond to reports of robberies and thefts. After this sexual assault… the transit authority is considering increasing its security.”

On October 19, The Independent reported that the train passengers who “failed to help a woman who was allegedly raped on a Philadelphia commuter train could face criminal prosecution,” according to the police. “Authorities have said bystanders stood by and 'did nothing' as the assault took place, and that anyone found to have recorded it could face charges,” wrote the newspaper.


Only when we know about the violence women and girls face, are we able to make a change.

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Andreia Nobre

Andreia is a Brazilian journalist and writer, and women and children's rights advocate. She is passionate about anthropology and cultural diversity.