TfL and the police want to stop unwanted sexual behavior on public transport. Here’s how you can make a difference…
There are only two other people sitting in your train carriage. A man gets on at the next stop. He sits right next to you, despite there being dozens of spare seats in the carriage. Muscles tensed, you look straight ahead, then catch his eye in the opposite window’s reflection. He’s openly staring. Leering. “You look lonely,” he says. “Are you lonely? I’ll walk you home. Where do you live?”
His leg presses against yours. You get up and move seats, closer to the other passengers. The man continues staring, but doesn’t move seats. You get off at the next stop. He doesn’t follow. You breathe a sigh of relief, shake the experience off and wait for the next train.
In 2013, a TfL survey revealed that 15% of all female passengers had experienced unwanted sexual behaviour (USB) on public transport in London, and 90% of them didn’t then report the incident. A partnership was formed between TfL, British Transport Police, Metropolitan Police and City of London Police to tackle USB on public transport, and as part of this, improve confidence to report. While many of us normalise such behaviour, dismiss it as a social nuisance, wish to forget it or think the authorities won’t care, this absolutely isn’t true. Here are three reasons why reporting USB to the police is essential to making meaningful change…
Your commute should always be a safe space
USB includes actions such as staring or leering, sexual touching, groping, rubbing up against someone, masturbation, taking sexual photos (for example, up someone’s skirt or down their top), following somebody or making provocative or inappropriate comments. If you feel in danger, or just very uncomfortable about a situation, inform the police. See below for details on how to report an incident of USB on public transport and what information can help the police identify the offender.
USB is never OK
Many of us have become so used to experiencing uncomfortable encounters we’ve never even considered if, in fact, they might be illegal. Denormalising USB is key to changing the cultural norm, and speaking out about it is a way of taking back control. Internalisation is common as a coping mechanism, but if anything like this happens, it is a big deal. You are not overreacting. Reporting USB matters.
Each report will help to find the offender
Report any of the behaviours mentioned here and you will be taken seriously. Remember, every single incident report is critical and will make a difference. Since April 2015, TfL has seen a 65% increase in reports of sexual offences on public transport, with more than 1,000 people arrested in relation to these cases. Offenders are rarely chancers and will probably have done this kind of thing before. Police can use multiple reports to build up a picture of an offender – where they might live or the route of their commute, distinctive clothing or what kind of person they usually victimise. Using the extensive CCTV system in place throughout the transport network, police can spot these patterns, identify the offender and take action to deal with them.
Tora, 25, tells Stylist how her report of unwanted sexual behaviour resulted in the offender being convicted of assault.
“It was about 10am on a weekday in January 2017. I got on the tube to head to work. This guy got on next to me and stood very, very close. It wasn’t so busy that he needed to stand so near to me – I felt like something was really off. He had this big box under his arm, so his hand was extended away from his body. I looked down and realised he suddenly had his hand on my thigh. He ran his fingers up the inside of my leg. I thought, ‘Oh my God, that guy’s just touched me.’
I remember taking a step back and pushing into the people behind me. I was in shock. I thought, ‘Did he mean to do that? What just happened?’ I was confused because he wasn’t even looking at me – it all happened in this strange, rehearsed way. It made me doubt myself, so I watched him.
A couple of stops later, a young girl got on and he made a beeline for her. I thought, ‘Yeah, that wasn’t in my head – he did mean to touch me.’ I beckoned her over and said, ‘That guy’s trying to touch you’. I think he heard me as he rushed off the train at the next stop. The girl thanked me and also got off the tube. My stop was next. As soon as I arrived at the main exit area, I reported what had happened to some TfL staff. They were amazing. They took me to their office and called the British Transport Police, who arrived quickly and took my statement.
In the summer I was told they’d arrested someone and needed me to identify the suspect. They showed me eight different men via a video link. He was one of them. A few months later I was informed that, in relation to my case, the man had been charged with ‘sexual assault on a female’. Three other women had also filed reports, helping to build a profile that resulted in his arrest. The numerous charges resulted in him getting eight months of jail time and being placed on the sex offenders register for 10 years.
I was relieved to know the verdict and seeing those words ‘sexual assault’ made me think, ‘Yes, I was sexually assaulted’. It made it real. I could have dismissed what happened, but by reporting the incident I’ve stopped it happening to someone else. When you report these things it helps to build a picture. Nine times out of 10, you’re not going to be the first person they’ve done it to, and you probably won’t be the last – unless they’re held accountable.”
How to report unwanted sexual behaviour
Every report helps build a picture for TfL and the police, making your journey safer
Text 61016 or call 101 to report any instances of USB on public transport to the police.
The information below will help them find the offender.
- What happened?
- What tube, train line or bus number were you on?
- What did the offender look like?
- What was the offender wearing?
- To help the police identify you on cctv, what were you wearing?
- Which station or bus stop were you near when it happened?
- Which direction was your tube, train or bus travelling in?
- Which station or bus stop did the offender board or disembark at?
- What time did you board the tube, train or bus?
- What time did the offence happen?
REPORT IT TO STOP IT.
Visit TfL’s website to find out more.