Sexual harassment on trains: Nearly 200 women share stories as part of new campaign

Sexual harassment train woman. (Getty Images)
Sexual harassment incidents in London provide snapshot of what women experience across the UK. (Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Women are experiencing a "hotbed of harassment" when travelling on public transport, a new campaign highlights.

Nearly 200 women and girls, with victims as young as 11, have shared their experiences of being sexually harassed on Transport for London (TfL)'s buses and trains.

Testimonies were submitted to Zan Moon, who founded Screengrab Them – 'a movement tackling rape culture in education' by 'exposing online harassment, misogyny and coercion' – after the murder of Sarah Everard.

While her campaign (shared publicly on Instagram) is focused on the capital, the types of experiences documented are relatable to women across the UK.

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Moon has submitted the testimonies and written to Mayor Sadiq Khan "with grave concern over the issue of women’s safety in London, specifically on TFL services", asking him to act.

"In your acceptance speech for your role as Mayor last year you describe London as ‘the greatest city on earth’ and yet this is a city in which women are seemingly unable to walk home without being catcalled, groped, upskirted, stalked, insulted, assaulted or even murdered," she wrote.

With 19 pages of testimonies, Moon has divided the abuse into categories that reflect the different types of harassment.

"On the bus – a man sat behind me started groaning and fidgeting so I turned around to see what he was doing. Had his hands down his pants very clearly masturbating. I got up and moved away but he continued to stare until I got off the bus," one submitted in confidence.

"I was going out for the day in London and was wearing a dress (shouldn't have to be relevant but sadly it is) and I had a coat over the top. I took my coat off and a man on the same carriage as me said "are you asking to get f*****?", another shared.

"Men repeatedly rub their groin on my body/hand when on a packed tube. This happens often," said one, while another said, "It only took me four days since moving to London for someone to grab my butt on the tube without my consent."

Of the 180 testimonials, 81% said that people witnessed what happened to them but didn't intervene.

Woman on public transport. (Getty Images)
New campaign has suggested changes to keep women safe on public transport. (Getty Images) (Westend61 via Getty Images)

"I asked people to contribute their stories via a Google form but I thought I will have only a few responses," Moon, 24, based in north London, told the Metro.

"The majority show that harassment is not seen as a priority by TfL staff or the government."

She was compelled to launch the survey after her and her girlfriend were harassed by a group of men in their 40s on the tube in January. They asked them to have sex in front of them to prove they were lesbians and yelled abuse at them. No one stepped in despite them asking others in the carriage for help.

"I was quite traumatised by the experience, so I contacted British Transport Police (BTP) but they told me that because the CCTV deletes after 72 hours, there was nothing they could do," she said.

‘That really upset me and angered me. It is such a small window for victims to come forward."

Her open letter to the Mayor also reads, "I recognise and have read through your strategy ‘Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls’ and I am saddened to say that it is simply not enough. We need tangible change, and we need it now.

"Communication campaigns and ‘See it, say it, sort it’ flyers with a number to text BTP are inadequate (not just because the underground is the one place with zero service) but because the problem runs so deep that it needs much more than a few adverts to #speakup."

She has also received responses from men, which she says ironically "perfectly summarises" the attitudes of perpetrators who see violence against women as a joke.

Read more: Five-year-old children are 'sexist' but it wear off as they grow up, study finds

However, Moon has suggested changes for the mayor to make. While she believes the real issue at hand is educating boys from primary school age about harmful misogyny, she sees the need for immediate action to help keep women safe now.

Her suggestions include constant female police presence on TFL platforms and stations, more undercover police on the tube during peak hours, fixing the CCTV system immediately, installing 'harassment panic buttons' on every carriage and partnering with broadband companies to give everyone free Wi-Fi underground.

That said, a YouGov poll last year from End Violence Against Women (EVAW) coalition, found 47% of women and 40% men said trust in the police has decreased since Everard's murder.

Moon also recommends providing self-defence courses, improving staff responses, creating a rigorous rehabilitation programme for perpetrators and increasing pressure on government to make changes to the education system. This includes teaching boys about misogyny, ensuring boys are tested on consent and feminist attitudes at GCSE level and making self-defence a mandatory part of PE.

"Finally, and most importantly, do everything in your power to bring about a change in law to make Public Sexual Harassment an offence," she wrote.

Sexual harassment is not currently an offence under UK law in its own right, while rape and sexual assault are.

However, some forms of sexual harassment do break criminal law in England and Wales, including stalking, indecent exposure, 'upskirting', and sexual harassment involving physical contact (which amounts to sexual assault in English and Welsh law).

Other forms of sexual harassment might also break criminal law, but it depends on the situation.

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A spokesperson for the Mayor said, "Sadiq is clear that violence and harassment towards women is a deep cultural problem in our society, and we must not simply respond to male violence against women and girls, but prevent it, which is why he continues to take action by funding initiatives to address the behaviour of at-risk offenders to prevent incidents happening.

"A lot of work still needs to be done, but tackling violence against women and girls remains an absolute priority and the mayor is determined to ensure that every woman and girl is safe, and feels safe – whatever the time of day and wherever they are in the capital."

A spokesperson for TFL said, "As well as proactive police patrols taking place across public transport, we work with the police to pursue all sexual harassment offences using our extensive network of CCTV and will be continuing to deliver sexual harassment training to all frontline staff."

A spokesperson for BTP encouraged women to keep coming forward, "It’s vital that passengers continue to report these sorts of incidents to us for us to be able to take action – we can identify hotspot locations, target our patrols, and bring more offenders to justice."

Outside of Moon's campaign, others are trying to help keep women and girls safe across the country. For example, safe spaces for women and girls in the UK seaside town of Weymouth in Dorset are being trialled.

The Pineapple Project was set up after young women requested safe places to find refuge in their community, with shops, entertainment venues and beauty establishments displaying pineapple stickers to signal they can help if a woman feels threatened.

And 'downblousing' could soon be criminalised after the Law Commission called for the act of taking photos down a woman's top without consent to be made illegal in England and Wales.

If you’re aged 16 and over and have experienced rape, sexual assault, sexual abuse or any other type of sexual violence, or you’re not sure what happened, you can call Rape Crisis England and Wales on 0808 802 9999 or chat to them online.

If you're in need of support after a crime, you can also visit Victim Support for free, independent, confidential advice.