A man was charged with raping a woman on a train outside of Philadelphia as fellow passengers watched, held up phones and did nothing to intervene, police said.
The man, Fiston Ngoy, 35, harassed the woman, groped her and eventually raped her as fellow passengers watched the assault through more than two dozen train stops last week, authorities said. Police believe no one called authorities, though they are investigating whether any of the witnesses may have recorded the incident.
Officials said they do not expect charges against the bystanders on the train.
Transit officers for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority stopped Ngoy at a train stop, finding him in the middle of his assault, SEPTA Police Chief Thomas J. Nestel said at a press conference Monday.
"When the doors opened, an officer entered and saw what he believed was a criminal act occurring," Nestel said. "He ripped that man off her and pulled him out onto the platform."
Nestel said both Ngoy and the victim got on the train Oct. 13 at the same stop — the Frankford Transportation Center in northeast Philadelphia. Police say they weren't able to stop the assault until the train reached the 69th Street terminal in west Philadelphia on the Market-Frankford Line, which was about 27 stops later. Nestel said his officers responded within three minutes of the lone 911 call they received — from an off-duty transportation employee.
Police and other officials were troubled that no one witnessing the assault intervened and held a news conference reiterating the need for people who see something unusual to report it immediately, even anonymously or through the emergency buttons on trains.
"What we want is everyone to be angry and disgusted and to be resolute about making the system safer," Nestel said, adding that it "concerns me" no one stepped in throughout the lengthy assault that an arrest affidavit shows continued for about 40 minutes.
He noted surveillance footage captured the assault and appeared to show other passengers possibly recording the attack. "There were people witnessing the act with phones in their hands," Nestel said. "People were holding their phone up in the direction of this woman being attacked."
Despite their inaction, prosecutors handling the case don’t anticipate charging fellow passengers for not intervening, a spokesperson for the suburban Philadelphia district attorney said.
In an emailed statement to The Associated Press, District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer said prosecutors want witnesses to come forward, rather than fearing prosecution, and said: “Pennsylvania law does not allow for the prosecution of a passenger who may have witnessed a crime.”
Elizabeth Jeglic, a psychology professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, researches sexual violence prevention. She said if people feel uncomfortable about physically intervening, there are other options, such as 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 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."
Arrest records show Fiston Ngoy, 35, is facing a host of charges, including rape.
The arrest affidavit for Ngoy detailed times of the assault, including that during those 40 minutes the woman appears to repeatedly push Ngoy away.
Nestel would not give an approximate number of witnesses and it was unclear from the affidavit how many passengers were present for those 40 minutes, but the train line is the busiest route on SEPTA. Authorities have not released the surveillance video.
Investigators said in the affidavit that Ngoy sat down next to the woman about a minute after he boarded the train car, shortly after 9:15 p.m. The video shows her pushing him away multiple times until he is seen ripping her pants down at about 9:52 p.m.
Superintendent Timothy Bernhardt, of the Upper Darby Police Department, which is investigating the incident, said officers arrived around 10 p.m.
"There was a lot of people, in my opinion, that should have intervened. Somebody should have done something," Bernhardt told The Philadelphia Inquirer. "It speaks to where we are in society and who would allow something like that to take place. So it’s troubling."
Ngoy was arrested after being pulled off the woman. The victim was taken to a local hospital.
According to the court documents, the woman told police that Ngoy ignored her pleas to go away. Ngoy claimed he knew the victim and said the encounter was consensual, but he could not remember her name, the arrest affidavit states. His last address was listed as a homeless shelter.
In a statement, SEPTA called the incident a "horrendous criminal 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," SEPTA said in the statement, urging people to call authorities if they witness a crime or anything unusual.
If you are a survivor of sexual assault, RAINN offers support through the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE & online.rainn.org).
Contributing: Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Rape on train in Philadelphia occurred while bystanders held up phones