Imagine this. You’ve had a long day at work, on the walk to the tube station all you can think about is getting home, putting on your pyjamas for a wild night in with dinner and your Friends box-set.
You try to find the perfect carriage, one where you might get a seat but if not you’ll still have room to breathe when the commuters pile on. This rarely happens. Businessmen shove you out the way, using elbows, briefcases and brutal force to make sure they’re not the ones stranded on the platform waiting for the next train. It would be wrong and slightly depressing to state that chivalry is completely dead but at 5.30pm Monday to Friday you have little reason to believe otherwise.
So you’re on the train, your glasses have steamed up – its winter and from now on stepping in from the cold causes temporary blindness for all spectacle wearers. You try to find something to cling on to and an air gap so you don’t pass out. Looking around you see the usual, women of all ages trying to hold on for dear life, and men of all ages sat down, whipping out their iPads, iPhones, and Kindles to entertain them on the way home. That’s not to say women should immediately be given first priority, but the nature of the way some men obtain a seat makes it all the more infuriating.
You countdown how long it is till the next stop, hoping it’s the destination for everyone else on the train. Suddenly you feel something against your leg. It’s moving up and down your leg getting closer to your bum. It stops here and strokes repeatedly. “Must be someone’s bag. Someone’s coat?” Then a shiver pierces through your entire body when you realise that a stranger is using this cosy tube ride as an opportunity to get his kicks on the way home.
As you try to move away without causing a scene fellow commuters ‘tut’ at you for throwing them off balance and making this crushing journey home even worse for them. If they only knew. The mystery groper follows you with his hand and is having such a wonderful time he starts to breathe deeply down your neck, getting faster and faster, his hand getting into the most intimate places you’d rather it wouldn’t.
All your instincts up until now would lead you to scream and shout but all you can do is look around stunned asking for help without actually being able to say anything. Words won’t come out. What if you’re wrong and everyone in the carriage thinks you’re a crazy lady screaming about a pervert on the train? You reach the next stop. It’s not yours but you run off in a state of panic. You wait, shaking, for the next train and when you finally reach your stop you run home. From then on you stay late at work so that you can travel home on a quieter train. This means getting home later, working later for no extra pay and letting tube gropers control your life.
This has happened to me three times this year. Each time you become more defeated and angry but no closer to being able to confront your attacker. People always ask why women don’t confront men who touch them inappropriately on public transport. It’s not as simple as that. You always find yourself being the one who’s embarrassed. Despite all this, there is hope. Thanks to social networking sites such as Twitter its easier for women to speak publicly and to find other commuters who have suffered the same kind of abuse. So many have spoken out that it became time for others to listen and take action.
Project Guardian recently worked alongside the British Transport police, Metropolitan police, City of London police and Transport for London, in a weeklong campaign between 23rd and 28th September 2013. Arrests were made with 120 plain clothed and uniformed officers present on London transport. As well as this, groups such as The Everyday Sexism Project, End Violence Against Women and Hollaback London have also been advising the police on the issues.
Its comforting to know that those who have the power to make a change are listening and becoming actively involved in various projects, however I still think more needs to be done, in a much more public way. Posters are plastered all over the underground, telling people not to run too fast up and down escalators, not to hold the train doors open, not to abuse staff etc, why not to add to this, and place warnings telling commuters that it iswrong to abuse women, that everyone knows they’re doing it, that they should be ashamed, and if they are doing it they will be caught. Everyone knows that if you see something everyday it becomes ingrained in your memory. You stop running too fast to catch the doors before they close, you stop running up and down the escalators and if the issue of sexual abuse is addressed this way women would feel much more confident in coming forward and confronting their attacker, knowing they have the support of the people who run the underground behind them.
To my knowledge the last piece of advice, of this kind, from TFL can be found on their website.
Tube Tips for Women, was last updated on 21st October 2005. That’s over eight years ago. This leaflet was launched advising women:
- Advice for mums or mums-to-be for easy and trouble-free journeys
- Tips on staying safe while travelling on the Underground, such as never leaving any bag unattended and reporting any suspicious or inappropriate behaviour to a member of staff
- Recommendations on journey planning through TfL Journey Planner and Tube Guru
- Suggestions for women having missed the last Tube on safe alternative transports options
Liz Norris, Marketing Communication Manager at London Underground, said: “We are delighted with the launch of Tube Tips for Women.This leaflet is really guidance given from women to women on safe travel around the city.”
Its time advice for women was updated, more accessible and publicised on a higher level. Women shouldn’t be the ones who are embarrassed at the hands of an abuser on public transport and they should feel empowered enough to name and shame. Having the public support of the companies that run the transport network in London would surely be a massive step to a safer future for women travelling any time, day or night, alone or in groups, young or old.
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