Sexual harassment and assault on public transport has long been a serious concern for travelers around the globe, particularly women. Through the joint efforts of anti-abuse organizations and police authorities, Project Guardian is ready to combat this safety issue in London.
Jane Martinson of the Guardian writes:
Victims of sexual assault and harassment are to be encouraged to come forward and report the crimes as part of a major scheme launching this week on London‘s transport networks.
In the first initiative of its kind of this size, all 2,000 officers who police the city’s public transport network – including the underground, overground trains and the buses – have been trained to deal with sexual offences. Up to 180 officers at a time are to be deployed at stations as part of Project Guardian.
Ricky Twyford, an inspector and manager of the project, said the scheme was launched after transport bosses became increasingly concerned about the rising numbers of travellers citing safety and security concerns while using London transport.
One of the biggest fears in a recent survey of commuters was sexual harassment, which few women report.
“We hope this will send a message to everyone that we will not tolerate this behaviour,” said Twyford. “We want women to feel confident that they will be listened to and their complaints will all be taken seriously.”
Three women’s campaign groups – the End Violence against Women coalition, Hollaback and Everyday Sexism – were asked to help draft the guidelines and train staff after the police authorities studied a similar exercise in the Boston’s Massachusetts Bay transport authority.
From early on Tuesday the police and website Everyday Sexism will launch a week-long Twitter chat using hashtag #ProjGuardian to raise awareness of the campaign and encourage people to share and report incidents that have happened to them on the transport network that week in real time.
Laura Bates, of Everyday Sexism, which has logged about 5,000 incidents from women of all ages describing sexism, harassment and assault on the transport network, has been one of the key advisers.
“What’s really exciting about Project Guardian is the extent to which the BTP [British Transport Police] have worked closely with us and listened from the very beginning to these real women’s stories, which means that vital aspects of the initiative such as believing the victim and taking every instance seriously, no matter how ‘minor, have been central to officer training.”
Ellie Cosgrave, an engineer who filmed a protest on the tube this year in response to being harassed on the way to work, welcomed the project. “This is absolutely vital,” she said.
After filming the protest, Cosgrave was contacted by people in New York and Paris who had suffered similar abuse.
Twyford said there were various criminal offences with which perpetrators could be charged but the main aim of the exercise was to encourage victims to come forward.
“Our core aim is to increase confidence and awareness of the victims of these crimes. Only if they come forward can we find out the extent of this problem,” she said.
Boston has seen a decrease in crimes since it launched its initiative. In April, as part of a growing international campaign focusing on public transport, anti-harassment ads were posted for a month across the city’s transport network.
The Hollaback campaign also funded similar ads displayed on Philadelphia’s transport system. Run by local activists, Hollaback was founded in New York in 2005 after a well-publicised incident of harassment on the subway.
Now a global movement to end street harassment, it is powered by local activists to encourage women to document, map and share incidents. Its aim is to create a crowd-sourced initiative to end such harassment and shift public opinion. Since January 2011 it has trained more than 200 leaders in 62 cities in 25 countries.
Agencies involved in the London transport initiative include the Metropolitan and City London police, Transport for London and the British Transport Police.
Information will be publicised about how to complain, including the setting up of a crime helpline (0800 405 040) and text service (61016). Emergency cases should ring 999.
Today, Ellie Cosgrove shared her story – and her brief film ‘Take Back the Tube’ – in the Guardian (linked above). She bravely wrote again of her own experience with harassment and assault on public transit:
When a man pressed his erection against me on a crowded tube carriage, it’s hard to describe exactly how I felt. As he started breathing heavily down my neck, my body clenched and I willed the next stop to come so I could untangle myself and get to work. On arriving in the office I found semen streaked down the back of my legs, and my heart sank. I scuttled off to the toilets to clean myself up before my morning meeting.
In the days that followed I began to joke about it, to laugh it off as “just one of those things”, another story to add to the list. It fell in line with the litany of gropes, cat-calls and harassment that I’d been dealing with since I was a teenager. I was able to file it away in the box labelled “feeling unsafe around men”, but what I didn’t realise at the time was that that box was already full-to-bursting.
Over the year that followed I became increasingly angry, until eventually it was all I could talk about. Every time I was shouted at in the street I wanted to shout back, I just wasn’t sure how to. I decided to tell my story in a blogpost, but it didn’t seem quite enough. I wanted to really take ownership of what happened to me, to express how I felt, and to take back the tube for myself and for all women who had been sexually assaulted on it.
So on International Women’s Day I went back to the spot where my incident happened. I held a sign explaining what had happened to me, and I danced. I danced my protest, and it felt right. It was petrifying, exhilarating, and soothing all at once, and it was absolutely fitting.
Follow @EverydaySexism, @btp_uk, and #ProjGuardian on Twitter for news, contacts for reporting, and updates related to the campaign.
Read about the early effects of the campaign (including a rise in reports and 10 arrests), here.
October 2013 update: read Laura Bates’ latest on how Project Guardian is making transport safer for women.