YouGov Research Reveals 39% Of Londoners Have Experienced Sexual harassment on Public Transport

Sponsored by Transport For London
Sponsored by Transport For London
YouGov Research Reveals 39% Of Londoners Have Experienced Sexual harassment on Public Transport

Featured Image Credit: Transport For London

As some of us get back on public transport, there are some things that shouldn’t return to pre-pandemic “normality” – and one of the most important is sexual harassment.

Government research shows 84% of women and 60% of men in the UK have experienced sexual harassment in their lifetime. And studies suggest only half of all incidents get reported, due to some confusion over what sexual harassment entails.

Sexual harassment takes many shapes. There’s exposing intimate body parts, upskirting (photographing under someone’s clothes) and cyber-flashing (sending or showing obscene imagery without consent). There’s touching someone inappropriately, including pressing or rubbing up against someone. There’s cat-calling (making unsolicited remarks of a sexual nature) or intrusive staring of a sexual nature. 

Transport For London
Transport For London

In one study, 12% of women thought they had experienced sexual harassment – but when they were shown the behaviours listed above, that shot up to 47%. 

It’s all sexual harassment, it’s all unacceptable on public transport, and it can all be reported to the police via text, phone or online. If you see an incident on the bus, report it at met.police.uk – and for all other TfL services text the British Transport Police on 61016.

As part of researching this article, I asked a few women of varying ages and I was shocked how many could reel off sexual harassment incidents. It’s almost certainly happened to someone you know. Your colleague. Your sister. Your partner. Your daughter. Your mum. Or it could happen to you. 

Becky (note: all names have been changed) is 28. “I was upstairs on a bus in Hackney, in the middle of the day,” she recalls. “This guy sits next to me – a big red flag, as there were empty double seats, and London etiquette is always to take any empty double seat. And he kept inching closer, then he started rubbing my thigh. 

Transport For London
Transport For London

“Now, I’m a principled person and I don’t mind being embarrassed – I’ll shout at people in public. But when you’re being harassed or assaulted you freeze – it might be shock. I was second-guessing myself: ‘Is this actually happening?’” Like half of all victims, Becky didn’t report the event, partly because she didn’t know how to. 

Sexual harassment starts at a young age. “There’s a particular problem with school uniforms,” says medical student Nicole. “I don’t care what porn says, school skirts aren’t licence to leer at young girls. As a 19-year-old I’m used to creepy guys but at 13 or 14, it’s harder. A lot of people my age were cat-called more in their uniforms than as adults – because uniforms have been sexualised and girls objectified.”

Transport For London
Transport For London

Becky agrees. “When I was younger, me and my friends would get cat-called constantly and we'd be like ‘Why are they doing that? I'm obviously not going to get into their car.’ And I realised they do it because it's a sick power dynamic: the lack of consent is the sexual thrill.”

It’s not just cat-calling, either – ask Emma, who’s just gone to university. “I was in Year 8, aged 12 or 13, and as I was going up the stairs on the bus someone grabbed my butt. I didn’t really think about it at the time but I realised later what had happened.” 

Then there’s Siobhan, who’s in her 40s. “I watched one guy stood on a packed Tube” – sexual harassment often takes place at rush hour – “gazing down the tops of these two young girls, and he started unzipping himself. I clapped once, loudly – he saw me staring at him and he put himself away and got off at the next stop.”

Transport For London
Transport For London

All of the women I spoke to thought that bystanders might have been able to help if they’d been aware of the situation. And when I relayed their experiences to some male friends, they were shocked by what they learned.

“This stuff is repulsive,” said Faisal, a 40-year-old father of two. “I can’t quite believe it’s still going on – but that’s the problem: it is, and it’s changing. I’d never even heard of some of these things – they’re new to me. But I’ll be a lot more vigilant from now on. I hate to think of women feeling unsafe, and if I’m not part of the solution I’m part of the problem.”

Transport For London
Transport For London

Simon, a 25-year-old who knows one of the victims involved but had never heard her story, had a simple immediate reaction: “My first thought is that I want to find the guy and rip his head off. But of course I know that’s wrong, and it could end up with me in prison instead of him. That doesn’t help anyone.”

So what advice would these women pass on to fellow passengers who want to help make public transport safer? The first thing is to be aware –be on the look-out for the unusual. 

“If it looks fishy, it’s probably fishy,” says Becky. “I would ask ‘Are you OK?’ You don’t have to confront the perpetrator. If someone had asked me, that would have spooked the guy and he’d have run off.”

Transport For London
Transport For London

Indeed, the best advice against sexual harassment is not to go all vigilante but to engage the person being targeted – you might pretend you know them, or just ask if they’re alright. As Siobhan says, “You can ask ‘Are you OK?’ You could even mouth it at them. Just give them an opportunity, let them know they’re not alone.”

And, most of all, report it. “If you see this going on, tell someone – a member of staff, or contact the reporting hotline,” pleads Nicole. “Don’t put up with it. Don’t let the creeps get their way.”

Transport for London and National Rail do not tolerate sexual harassment on our network. See it or experience it on public transport? Report an incident on the bus network at met.police.uk or for all other TfL or National Rail services, text the British Transport Police on 61016. In an emergency, always dial 999. Together, we can stop sexual harassment.


Topics: News, Travel, Domestic Abuse

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