Women-only train carriages ‘could prevent sex attacks’, says Labour MP

Women-only train carriages should be considered to help prevent sex attacks on public transport, a Labour MP has said.

Chris Williamson, shadow minister for policing and the fire service, said the carriages may offer ‘a safe space’ for female passengers as sexual offences on trains have more than doubled in the past five years.

It follows a 17-year-old girl being sexually assaulted twice, by two different men, on a train journey between Newquay and Plymouth as she made her way home from the Boardmasters festival on August 12.

Some 1,448 offences were reported in 2016/17, compared with 650 incidents in 2012/2013, British Transport Police figures show.

The idea was initially suggested by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn during his 2015 leadership bid, but the plans were dropped after attracting criticism, including from Labour MPs such as Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall.

Derby North MP Mr Williamson was drawn into the debate when he retweeted an article by left-wing blog Skwawkbox, which pointed to official figures showing a rise in sex attacks on public transport.

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He told PoliticsHome: ‘It would be worth consulting about it. It was pooh-poohed (when Jeremy Corbyn suggested it), but these statistics seem to indicate there is some merit in examining that.

‘Complemented with having more guards on trains, it would be a way of combating these attacks, which have seen a very worrying increase in the past few years.

‘I’m not saying it has to happen, but it may create a safe space. It would be a matter of personal choice whether someone wanted to make use of it.’

Women-only carriages on trains have been tried in countries such as Japan, Brazil, Mexico and China.

The Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) said it ‘deplores the rising number of attacks’, saying trains needed to be properly staffed to keep passengers safe.

Women-only carriages were trialled on Chinese trains in Guangzhou this summer (Picture: Rex)
Women-only carriages were trialled on Chinese trains in Guangzhou this summer (Picture: Rex)

TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said: ‘A properly-staffed railway at all times is the only way to keep travellers safe.

‘Our railways have more passengers than ever before but since privatisation, station staff across Britain have been culled and we are now seeing companies like Southern trying to get rid of carriage guards.

‘Our entire network is now woefully understaffed, making travelling more stressful and, sadly, more dangerous for passengers.’

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But Labour’s Stella Creasy criticised the move on Twitter, arguing that it would ‘normalise’ attacks and that women should be safe to sit anywhere.

The Walthamstow MP, who is a vocal campaigner for women’s rights, said: ‘Can we make all carriages safe for all passengers rather than restricting where we can go? It’s not us, it’s them honest…’

She added: ‘Doesn’t keep women safe to restrict their movements – it normalises attacks.

‘We need to be clear they (the attackers) are problem, not women’s seating plans.’

Jess Phillips, the Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley, said the proposal for women-only carriages was an ‘absolutely terrible idea’.

She tweeted: ‘It is essentially giving up on trying to prosecute assaults. Also, men should be incredibly annoyed by suggestion they can’t control themselves.’

(Main picture: PA)