Ask any woman you know about harassment or assault on public transport and it’s more than likely she’ll have a story – if not several – of the time it happened to her. A straw poll of the Stylist office yielded account after account depressingly quickly, from being “stalked” through train carriages and openly asked for sex, to being groped, forcibly kissed and having a man grab them between the legs.
One of the most hopeful things we can take from how regularly it comes up is that continuing to bring attention to the issue opens more and more people’s eyes to the fact it’s an everyday occurrence for women across the nation – and its impact can be devastating.
Now, new figures reveal that the number of reported sexual offences on trains in Britain has more than doubled in the last five years, and could be an indication that women are more and more likely to report such incidents – meaning there’s a better chance it will be acknowledged as a serious, widespread issue.
Thanks to a freedom of information request by BBC Radio Five Live, statistics for 2016-17 have been released by British Transport Police (BTP), revealing 1,448 offences against women and girls aged 13 and over were reported. In 2012-13, 650 were reported.
The numbers, which cover England, Scotland and Wales, include the London Underground network.
Rachel Krys, co-director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, told the BBC that she does not believe women are more at risk than in previous years, but that efforts to encourage victims to report abuse have had an effect – and pointed out that the more people report, the more seriously the problem is taken by police.
“When the scale of sexual violence is better understood, police forces take it more seriously and measures can be taken to reduce the risks to women and tackle perpetrators,” she explained.
“Research on the London Underground last year showed that the majority of these offences happen during rush hour, dispelling the myth that this is anything to do with a late-night drinking culture […] it is sober men, travelling to and from work, who thought they were entitled to assault women passengers.”
BTP launched the Report it to Stop it campaign in 2015, releasing a powerful video illustrating unwanted sexual advances on a tube train and asking viewers whether they would report the man’s actions.
It’s perhaps unsurprising that the unwanted sexual advances and assault is a problem that doesn’t seem to be abating – after all, we live in a society in which a man can be let off lightly for raping an unconscious woman because of his promising athletics career, and a rich reality star can boast of grabbing women “by the pussy” because he’s famous and still be elected leader of the free world.
However, while the figures could be seen as disheartening, here’s hoping that a more accurate picture of the scale of the issue and more awareness can only be a good thing.
BTP urges victims of sexual assault to report the crime as soon as possible, by approaching a police officer or station staff, calling 0800 40 50 40 or texting 61016.