Visible Platform is a new space for women to report any behaviour that makes them feel sexually targeted on the Tube. Stylist.co.uk speaks to the two brilliant co-founders about why it’s important that all stories of harassment – in any capacity – are valued.
Trigger warning: this article includes an account of sexual harassment.
You’re sitting on the Tube. You’re instinctively sat right at the end of the carriage, nestling against the pane of glass.
Sat here, you’re subconsciously halving the chances of someone making you feel uncomfortable by limiting the free space around you; of a stranger sitting too close or veering into your personal space in a way that feels off. You probably do this because it’s happened before.
In fact, on more than one occasion, a man might have sinisterly chosen to sit next to you despite the entire carriage being full of empty seats.
They might have even sat opposite you, but refused to turn their gaze away, attempting to assert a silent dominance over you with their stare. Perhaps they licked their lips, winked or looked you up and down in a manner that felt sexual, making you feel embarrassed, vulnerable and exposed.
This is a familiar experience for many women. If it happened to you, would you choose to report it? The likely answer is, ‘no’. Because, well, how would you explain what actually happened? You can’t report someone for where they choose to lay their gaze… Can you?
Olivia Wasson felt the same way as she questioned a similar experience she had on the Tube – when a man acted inappropriately towards her as she was travelling to an airport.
“I was standing up on the Tube and noticed that a guy was staring at me in this really leering way. Even when someone offered him a seat he refused it and pretended to make a phone call to stand even closer to me,” she tells Stylist.co.uk.
“I could already feel a mix of concern, alarm and anxiety swirling around inside of me but then he started licking his lips. It was just vile and made me feel so gross. I knew there was nothing I could do and the train was packed full of people so I just tried to make myself as small as possible and willed my stop to hurry up. I didn’t want to make a scene, I just wanted to get out of there.”
When Olivia left the station she rang one of her best friends Caitlín Sim. She says she had the overwhelming need to expel some of the grotesqueness of the situation, craving the cathartic release that comes with telling another woman a story like this, knowing that they’ll relate.
As the pair talked about Olivia’s experience and how common it is, they imagined a platform where women could report any type of interaction on the Tube that made them feel sexually harassed.
“I wished that there was an app or a reporting device where I could get all of this out of my system and a sense of closure,” says Olivia.
“I thought about the idea of a database where women could report these kinds of instances and it would at least be recorded either for their own mental wellbeing, to track the culture of how women are harassed on the Tube or even to assist the police in building a bigger picture about predators. Cait’s answer was everything I wanted to hear. She said: ‘Well, let’s make that.’”
Olivia’s experience happened in November 2019 and since then she has been working with Caitlín on a platform where women can report anything at all that has made them feel uncomfortable on the London Underground.
Their passion has been infectious and already another five women have been inspired to help them in their mission to build the website they’ve called Visible Platform – with plans of an app and chatbot to follow next year.
They explain: “Our service is for anyone who identifies as a woman to report any incident that made them feel sexually harassed. There is no pressure, you can fill the report out in as much or little detail as you like and it does not have to be passed onto the police if you don’t want it to. We want to provide a safe, friendly space of catharsis and to build up a picture of what is happening to women on the Tube.”
Visible Platform is also encouraging women to share past stories of harassment. Even if an incident occurred years ago it could still provide an insight into certain patterns or themes.
“The oldest incident we’ve had reported was from 1986. We hope that sharing her story gave that woman a sense of closure but it’s helpful for us to have it on file, too. For example, something that’s been in the news recently is how many underaged girls and girls in school uniforms are sexually harassed,” says Caitlín.
“So, even if someone made a past report from 2008 at a time when they were wearing a school uniform, it can still tell us something about the culture of sexualising school girls.”
The end goal is to work with other groups and the police as a unified effort against sexual harassment. Both Olivia and Caitlín are emphatically ‘pro’ reporting to the authorities and plan on sharing their findings with both the police and the British Transport Police as their research becomes more detailed.
This is something the chatbot will aid by giving women an immediate indication if something they are describing is technically a crime while providing the option to report it for them, too.
“We want to do all the heavy lifting”, says Caitlín. “We know that going to the police can feel like a big deal and a factor in why someone may not report something. That’s why we want to be a different kind of service which is warmer and friendlier, almost like the knowledgeable friend who you can come to, let it all out to and will know exactly what to do. We want to validate women’s experiences and say to them ‘your story matters, we want to hear it and we will count it’.”
Of course, in 2020 there is always the question of: what about Covid? Clearly, this year has seen fewer people using the Tube system but Visible Platform wants to establish themselves now, so that the next time a woman is faced with this situation, she knows who she can turn to.
“It’s easy to undersell how many people are using the Tube right now just because it’s not the normal commute numbers. You’ve got key workers, NHS staff, school teachers and schoolchildren, and as reports show we know that underage girls are targeted and so it’s still really important,” they explain.
Caitlín also points out that this is a better time than ever for action. “The last year has been a period of reflection on the things we want to take forward into the ‘new normal’. Why don’t we use this time to reflect on what we do not want to be part of the new normal? Let’s hit the ground running and have a service ready there so that if you get back on the Tube and a man reaches out for you, you can say to yourself: ‘I’m going to report that. I’m doing something about that’.”
While Olivia is juggling her day job and living in London, Caitlín is doing a masters degree and raising her toddler in Sweden, so their joint passion for this project has had to become resilient against the little hours they have left in the day.
Thank god it is, though. With little data or understanding of how many women are being sexually harassed on the Tube and yet a wealth of anecdotal stories from the many, many women who have experienced some sort of inappropriate behaviour, we’re in desperate need of Visible Platform and its unflinching mission to count every story.
Want to report something to Visible Platform? This is how it works:
- If you experience any kind of behaviour that makes you feel uncomfortable on the Tube, you can report this with Visible Platform.
- Go to Visible Platform’s website (the app is coming soon!) and look for the big button which says ‘report it’.
- Start by filling out a form with details such as where you were, what time it was and what happened.
- There are 13 questions in total and any can be skipped. You don’t need to share any details that you don’t feel comfortable to do so, and before revealing personal information about yourself (such as gender and sexual orientation) you will be given the option to opt-out.
If you wish to report unwanted sexual behaviour on any public transport in London to TFL you can do easily through the Report It Stop It campaign or to the police via the online crime reporting service. If you have been a victim of sexual assault or another gender-based crime, you can find advice and support at endviolenceagainstwomen.org.uk
Images: Getty / Visible Platform