Sexual harassment on the tube: What would you do?

Photo: Sarah Karacs

Photo: Sarah Karacs

Mary* was taking the tube home when she felt a hand reach between her legs. “I didn’t realize at first what had happened but when he walked past me, I put the two together and suddenly felt really angry that something could happen to me on a normal evening in the middle of rush hour”.

She burst into tears but no one stopped to find out why, or whether she was OK. “I guess they just assumed I’d broken up with my boyfriend or something”.

The experience shook Mary, who felt vulnerable on public transport for months afterwards.

As was discussed in Rosamund Urwin’s column in the Evening Standard today – women are frequently harassed on public transport.

She wrote: “When I asked for tales about sexual harassment on public transport, I was inundated. Londoners reported being leered at, catcalled, followed, flashed and groped — all on the daily commute.”

Women are advised to register instances of abuse to public transport police via telephone (0800 40 50 40), however, the police note that abuse of this ilk is rarely reported. TFL research demonstrated that in around 90 to 95 percent of cases, women do not come forward.  

A key reason for this might be that women feel their complaints won’t be taken seriously. When Mary told her story to the police, the first thing the (male) officer said was – “are you sure it wasn’t an accident?”

EverydaySexism, an online project which invites women to share their experiences of, well, everyday sexism. The group was set up to show how the public harassment, humiliation, and abuse has become normalized.

And while it’s important to for women to be made aware of the fact that harassment is crime and an experience that they should not have to suffer in silence, it might also be worth having a chat about how far “bystanders” have a responsibility to “call out” perpetrators.

We spoke to three men about sexual harassment on the tube, and what they would do if they were present.

Seamus Power, 26 “Men shouldn’t see women as objects”

Martin Stevens, 31 “I’d like to think I’d help step in and stop it, but I’m a bit of a coward”

Dave Cust, 23 “I can see how some men take advantage in confined areas, and it’s a sh*tty thing to do”

*Mary’s name has been changed to protect anonymity


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