Are the UK’s public transport bodies failing to protect women?

Almost a third of women say they have experienced sexual harassment on public transport in the past year. [Photo: Getty]
Almost a third of women say they have experienced sexual harassment on public transport in the past year. [Photo: Getty]

Like many women in the UK, I use public transport every single day.

Getting the bus to work in the morning, or taking the train back late at night, is unfailingly the most convenient and economical way of getting around.

But that’s not to say my reliance on trains, buses and tubes doesn’t come with a price.

Forget extortionate fares and over-crowded carriages; using public transport as a woman means risking the very-real threat of sexual harassment.

Almost a third of women who use public transport have experienced unwanted attention in the past year alone, according to the results of a new study by polling company D-CYFOR released today.

But perhaps even more shocking than that statistic, is the total lack of anti-harassment guidelines available for women.

Sexual harassment on public transport can include, but isn’t limited to, unwarranted staring, sexual comments, bodily contact, wolf-whistling and indecent exposure while travelling.

Upon contacting Transport For London, the British Transport Police, Met Police and the London Mayor’s Office, I found not one of these organisations was able to provide guidelines on how to deal with unwanted advances.

The London Mayor’s Office directed me to the Met Police; the Met Police directed me to the British Transport Police; British Transport directed me to TFL, who declined to comment on their official advice. Because, as it transpired, there isn’t any.

The only clear line from anyone was that if you are sexually harassed, you should report it.

This is what I was told by British Transport Police and Transport For London, who directed me to the website for their joint campaign, Report It To Stop It, which “encourage[s] passengers to report unwanted sexual behaviour to the police”.

The web page reads: “We encourage you to report anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. This includes rubbing, leering, sexual comments, indecent acts, groping, masturbation, taking photos of a sexual nature without your consent.”

Sadly, there are limited measures to stop these acts happening in the first place.

The problematic ‘Report It To Stop It’ campaign slogan puts the onus on victims of sexual harassment to start a case against the perpetrators – something which a vulnerable person is rarely capable of.

As for the lack of any other guidelines, after pressing a representative for Transport For London, I was provided with an entirely inadequate rationale for this.

They said: “We believe women should be able to use public transport without worrying about whether they’re following the right guidance.”

It’s true that, in an ideal world, women should feel able to travel alone at night, headphones in, wearing whatever they like and unhindered by fear.

But the bitter reality is that, as the latest research shows, women all over the country are having unpleasant and even traumatic experiences on public transport when all they want to do is to get from A to B.

Even if you’re not one of the third of women who experiences sexual harassment this year; it may be you the next year, or the year after that.

British Transport Police advises: “Report any unwanted sexual behaviour as soon as possible. Text 61016 or call 0800 40 50 40″. See the Report It To Stop It website for more details.

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