PHILADELPHIA (CBS)–Once voted the Best Urban Trail in the nation, the Schuylkill River Trail is not immune to thorns.
A Philadelphia woman is speaking out after reportedly being groped while on the Schuylkill River Trail over the weekend.
“About eight to ten African-American boys on BMX bikes swarmed me,” O’Brien told Eyewitness News. “One of the boys, probably no more than 12 or 13-years-old rode up next to me while I was on my roller blades and smacked me on my behind. I immediately turned to the boy and said, ‘That’s assault. You are not allowed to do that.’ To which he responded, ‘Yeah well you can’t catch me.'”
Philadelphia Police say the boys then fled in the direction of City Hall.
“I shouted as loud as I could, ‘Assault! Police! Call 911,’ hoping someone would stop them,” O’Brien said, though no one intervened.
While O’Brien filed a report with the Special Victims Unit, she’s speaking out in hopes this won’t happen to anyone else.
“It’s unacceptable and frankly, it’s illegal. And they need to be stopped,” said O’Brien. “I hate having to always be looking over my shoulder and worried about whether these kids are going to be assaulting me or harassing me.”
O’Brien is not alone; similar incidents last year sparked concern, outrage, and efforts to make the trail safer.
Last June, Eyewitness News was there as city partners announced the creation of the Schuylkill River Trail Watch, a volunteer-based community group trained to serve as the eyes and ears of the trail.
But after multiple meetings and training sessions, the initiative never got off the ground.
Jon Lyons, founder of local running organization Run215, says despite support from city leaders and police, there was a lack of volunteers.
“There were 12 people that had signed up to actually patrol the trail, which covers less than a day of an entire week we needed so really the entire thing folded,” Lyons said, despite hundreds who reportedly flooded social media with promises of action. “It’s really frustrating.”
He adds statistics show the trail is one of the safest places in the city.
“Sitting behind a keyboard and being an armchair quarterback is very easy and it’s even easier in 2017. Action is a lot harder,” Lyons said. “I don’t believe we can pass the buck and say the police aren’t doing their job or the city isn’t doing their job, because the reality is, we spoke, and we got an immediate response. It was overwhelmingly positive. They answered every email, every phone call, put together all of these meetings for us.”
Lyons says he wants to see meaningful action taken.
“I’m disheartened, but I’m also heavily invested in this city. I love this city. I love being able to use this trail. I don’t want people to feel scared to be here. It’s beautiful,” he said.
Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, whose district includes part of the trail, is now asking the community to step up.
“When people see something, they should say something but most importantly come out and get involved. It’s all of our trail,” Johnson said. “Change doesn’t happen overnight. We also have to show people they have a vested interest in keeping the trail safe.”
Though the Trail Watch never actually came to fruition, the city did improve and increase lighting on the trail and put up markers where callers can notify police of their exact location. Johnson says they are also working on a remote camera system, increasing police patrols, and weighing how to revive the Trail Watch this year.
O’Brien says that would help ease her concerns.
“Not going out at night, staying in areas that are well lit with people around – I thought I was doing everything the right way, and yet this still occurred in broad daylight,” she said. “Knowing there’s a group out there with the sole purpose of protecting those around me would give me peace of mind.”
If you’d like to get involved, call Councilman Kenyatta Jones’ office at 215-686-3412 or Town Watch Integrated Services at 215-686-1459.