By: Olivia Wiebe
Sexual harassment on public transportation plagues many residents in large metropolitan areas. Harassment on public transit includes unwanted touching or remarks, public lewdness, and taking of photos and videos without consent. Numerous studies show the prominence of unwanted behavior towards women and girls on busses and metros around the world.
- In the first 6 months of 2016, 458 sex crimes were reported on New York City public transit (up from 299 reports in the first 6 months of 2015)
- In London, a 2014 poll by Reuters showed that 32% of women who rode on public transit had experienced harassment, while 19% were victims of direct physical abuse
- In Los Angeles, 1 in 5 riders experienced harassment in 2015, including 7% who reported being groped, and 8% who were subjected to indecent exposure
- In Mexico City, government figures in 2014 indicated that 65% of women were victims of some type of gender violence on public transportation or at mass transit stops/terminals
Even more disturbingly, victims often feel unable or unwilling to report these crimes. To combat this, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Authority has launched a state-of-the art program to encourage victims of sexual harassment to speak up. This new 24/7 Harassment Hotline enables anyone to report sexual harassment on public transit. By calling 1-844-OFF-LIMITS, victims can speak to a counselor from Peace Over Violence, a sexual abuse community advocacy organization. These counselors are specially trained to handle issues of sexual harassment on public transit. L.A. Metro Authority is providing this resource so that victims will feel more comfortable reporting their experiences. Metro has also developed a smartphone app called “Transit Watch”, which allows people to call sheriff’s deputies, confidentially report harassment, and take photos of incidents.
Other cities around the world have tried to combat sexual harassment on public transit by introducing gender-segregated metro cars. This practice has seen mixed results. Some cities, including Cairo and Rio de Janeiro, have seen incidents of men entering the women-only cars. In Tokyo, which introduced gender-segregated train cars in 2000, the response has been more positive, and segregated cars have become part of the culture. However, usually only a few cars are reserved for women and children, leaving any female passengers who cannot fit in these cars vulnerable to harassment.
Further research by The World Bank revealed four common denominators that help explain the prevalence and failure to report incidents of sexual harassment:
- Reporting sexual harassment is often a complicated procedure that almost never produces results
- A lack of solidarity among public transit users makes victims feel unsupported
- Segregated transit cars are often seen as a short-term solution that fails to address the problem of sexual harassment
- Stations and platforms that are not well-maintained and orderly make riders feel unsafe
Hopefully, new programs like the Harassment Hotline in Los Angeles can combat some of these concerns, and will eventually reduce or eliminate sexual harassment on public transit. In the meantime, authorities should consider increasing transit funding to ensure that facilities remain in good condition and utilizing public awareness campaigns to encourage victims to speak out. These actions could help reduce the disturbing number of incidents of sexual harassment on public busses and metros.