Sexual harassment and assault of women on trains must be taken more seriously

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I am rather embarrassed when I see members of my own gender rushing into comments threads about women’s rights/safety with “This is sexist against men”/”What about men/everybody”-type comments.

A) It’s boring. B) It’s embarrassing. Do they not realise how stupid they look?

Men have enormous privileges in life. So much so that we walk tall through life without actually realising how privileged we are as a gender. Is it not appropriate that we occasionally shut the hell up and listen to the experiences of others who do not have such a privileged lot in life (generally)?

There has been a good debate spurred on by the Jeremy Corbyn suggestion of a debate on women-only carriages.

If I might use a (I think) American expression: the “key take-away” from this women-only carriages issue is this:

The safety of women, particularly, on trains is a very important issue and we need to find ways to address it. I suspect such ways will improve safety for everyone. But specific ways need to be found nonetheless that make women more safe on trains and also make women feel more safe on trains.

In fact the women-only carriage thing is a non-starter for a load of practical reasons. If you have women-only carriages it is conceivable that you actually reduce the safety of women on trains. Bear in mind that it is likely that such a carriage would not always be at the end of the train. So people would walk through it. So it would perhaps make women more vulnerable to attack from people walking through the carriage. Also, as Caron points out, it would probably make women who don’t use such carriages more vulnerable to predation.

But there is a serious problem with how casually society in general treats sexual harassment and assault of women on trains and it is specific to women. (Yes, there is a general problem of train safety for all, but there is a very specific women’s safety issue with has specific root causes and effects, and requires very specific, targeted solutions). When I am reading quietly on the train, I don’t get people sidling up to me and saying “What you reading then?”. I don’t get people leering at me. I don’t get people following me when I get off the train. I don’t get people putting their hand on my bottom or gratifying themselves in front of me.

I would recommend this article from Monique Villa which hits the nail on the head:

…women-only carriages are surely not the ideal solution. Shouldn’t public money be spent to tackle the real root of the problem, which is sexual discrimination and assault? Wouldn’t that achieve a better and lasting impact?

From verbal abuse to being followed, from unwanted sexual comments to physical assault, sexual harassment should be taken seriously and prosecuted accordingly. If the general feeling is that such crime is ‘too petty’ to be looked into by the authorities, how can we expect women to step up and report it? The message must be clear, and must be addressed right to the perpetrators: we will identify and prosecute you.

Along similar lines, our esteemed editor Caron writes:

So what would work? Raising awareness of the problem, as the British Transport Police have done, is important. Corbyn also came up with the idea of a 24 hour hotline to report such crimes. That has merit.

I also think that those of us who use public transport should look out for our fellow travellers. We tend to bury ourselves in our now thoughts and resolutely avoid any sort of interaction with the world around us. Keep an eye out for women who look uncomfortable and intervene to help them. If you see someone being groped on a crowded carriage, get up and offer them your seat or your space and report the perpetrator. These people need to be convicted.

One thing I’ve learnt this week is that the British Transport Police encourage reports of sexual harassment by text on 61016.

I finish with the words of Louise Jones (whose article is explicit):

People need to know that this happens a lot and it NEEDS to be talked about. Stories need to be shared and those men need to be shamed and caught. Shout out and grab his arm and demand respect and attention. Support a woman if she does shout out. Look out for it happening to those who are frozen. Look out for me. Make him cry and call the police. Make the biggest fuss you possibly can.