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This is what TfL plans to do about sexual harassment on London underground

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Megan Murray
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New findings highlight how dangerous the London underground can be for women, showing which times of day and tube lines are most commonly targeted by sexual harassers

New research released by the PA news agency has shown an alarming increase in the amount of sexual harassment reports on the London underground over the last four years, as well as shedding light on the times of day and tube lines where incidents are most rife.

Back in 2015, there were 844 reports of sexual assault recorded over the course of the year, which compared to the 1,206 reports from 2018-2019, shows a 42% increase.

The Mayor’s Office and Transport for London (TfL) have identified specific times of the day and services that are more likely to be targeted by perpetrators, as well as recognising patterns in their behaviour.

In regards to when the majority of sexual assaults take place, TfL reports that busier times of the day (like rush hour) seem to be more common because it’s easier for perpetrators to confuse their victims. For example, in a tightly packed tube, someone trying to inappropriately touch other passengers can claim it was an accident, or that it was someone else.

Andrea Simon, the End Violence Against Women Coalition’s head of public affairs, tells The Guardian: “We know that those committing sexual offences will enter the transport system purposefully in order to commit those offences.

“CCTV shows that they will move around the transport network looking for women to target, most often during the commuter rush hours when the tube network is busiest.”

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Although it has also been found that the night tube, which is often much quieter, accounts for 5% of harassment for the year with 62 incidents reported in 2018-2019.

TfL found that the Central line is the worst line for sexual assaults, counting it as one of the busiest and longest routes, and one which doesn’t have CCTV. Over the last four years there have been 1,054 reports vs 645 on the Victoria line.

Siwan Hayward, director of policing for TfL, told stylist.co.uk that the reason for the increase in reports was in part due to the Report It to Stop It campaign, which encourages tube passengers to report any experiences they have of sexual assault or harassment.

“We know that for too long these crimes have gone unreported, but as a result of the Report It to Stop It campaign, the number of people reporting these disgusting crimes with the confidence that action will be taken, has increased,” Hayward says.

“Anyone who experiences or witnesses a crime should report it immediately by texting 61016, as every single report matters and helps build a picture of the offender so they can be caught and brought to justice.”

To target the amount of harassment happening on the underground, Hayward says that TfL and British Transport Police already have 3,000 police and police community support officers dedicated to catching offenders.

Hayward adds: “This activity includes running regular covert patrols on the Tube network with plain-clothed officers, which have been successful in catching offenders and encouraging more people to report offences. More undercover patrols take place on the Central line than any other line and a programme of work is underway to install CCTV on the line as quickly as possible from next year.”

Currently plans for ensuring that all Central line trains have CCTV still won’t be starting until next year, with a completion date of 2023.  

Although it’s obviously important that campaigns like Report It to Stop It exist, and are empowering women to report any unwanted sexual behaviour they experience on the tube, it still remains to be seen what new actions TfL will take to tackle this rise in harassment figures. 

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Megan Murray

Megan Murray is a digital journalist for stylist.co.uk, who enjoys writing about London happenings, beautiful places, delicious morsels and generally spreading sparkle wherever she can.

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