Safe public transit for girls and women means more than providing access to transportation, it is about recognition of women’s and girls’s experiences and needs. It is about being able to exercise the right to freedom of movement in cities, in public transportation without fear of experiencing any forms of gender violence. Today, in all over the world public transportation systems remain unsafe for girls and women. Diverse forms of gender-based violence against women and girls occur on a daily basis, including sexual assault, harassment, and intimidation. Simply, if women cannot travel within the city safely and free from all forms of violence, then the city is not safe for women and girls.

Regardless where we live, mobility is a part of our daily life. Each day one million people use public transit every day in Metro Vancouver. Sexual offences on transit have as much of an impact as gender violence anywhere else. Every girls and women has the right to freedom of movement and travel safely in public spaces. And, it is critical to address this issue and take action to improve women’s safety on public transportation.

On Monday, April 7, Metro Vancouver Transit Police launched an awareness campaign to tackle sexual assaults and harassment on public transit. They join the week-long international Project Global Guardian, a campaign between six transit police forces in Boston, Washington DC, London, and Metro Vancouver.  Police forces recognize how pervasive and big violence against women on transit is and the need of developing strategy to prevent violence. Project Global Guardian campaign aims to create an environment on public transport networks around the world which does not tolerate intimidation, sexual assault, and sexual harassment. Battered Women’s Support Services supports this initiative by police forces to create a safe public transit for girls and women.

Violence against women on transit is a very big and serious issue. Millions of women around the world dealing horrific experience of violence on transit. Battered Women’s Support Services recognizes awareness is key in changing the culture of violence and supports this action taken by Metro Transit Police to prevent sexual assaults on transit. BWSS was part of Monday’s press conference with Transit Police and Alexa Dredge and Katie Nordgren who started Harassment on Translink website that allows women to report incidents of sexual assault on transit.

Here is transcription of press conference that speaks to how endemic this problem is and the actions needs to be taken.

“My name is Angela Marie MacDougall. I am the Executive Director of Battered Women’s Support Services.

Battered Women’s Support Services has been working to end violence against women in the last 35 years. And we do that a number of different ways: prevention as well as intervention. We are responding to over 10,000 requests for services currently. And we of course are extremely concerned about the human rights violation of sexual violence against girls and women on public transportation which is happening around the world. Everyday girls and women are entering buses, sea buses, and sky trains and are navigating gender violence, sexual harassment, and sexual assault.

As you noted in the video, over 60% of women accessing our services reported experiencing some form of sexual violence on public transportation. How is it that we can live in the 21st century and continue to have the issue of sexual violence continue unabated. It is so deeply and profoundly connected to our human experience, rooted in the shaping of our gender relationships.The experience of sexual violence on public transportation is one of the most horrific forms of sexual violence girls and women can experience. Because it makes us fear being outside of our houses, it makes the public environment unsafe which curtails our access to resources, to sense of safety and security within our communities. When we want to simply go to work, go to school, take care of our families, get our groceries, and live our lives, and there we are navigating sexual violence everyday and in a major way on public transportation.

This campaign is an important campaign because it allows us to make visible that which has been rendered invisible. The men who do sexual violence on public transportation act with impunity. The culture of sexual violence within public transportation continues unabated. And it has to stop. This campaign is one aspect of the very important work that we all have to do as a community. It is only one attempt at addressing a long standing, pervasive, endemic aspect of women’s realities.As early as last week, we received another report from a woman who experienced sexual violence on public transportation while returning from her work. We all need to understand the extent of which these experiences affects women’s lives. The level of fear, the impact of dealing with this pervasive issue. This campaign is an opportunity to urge us to own our role. And it speaks to bystanders.

Every time there is a sexual assault on public transportation there are witnesses. And often witnesses remain silent. This is an opportunity for bystanders to speak and to make visible and to create safety on public transportation. If you recall the end of last year, there was a horrific sexual assault in India. It was widely reported and people were horrified that a young woman experienced violence and died ad a result. Her assault happened on public transportation, it happened on the bus. Sexual violence, sexual harassment on public transportation is endemic and it is epidemic.This campaign is an opportunity for us to change that, an opportunity for us to make a difference. Make it visible which has been rendered invisible.

And for girls and women who experience sexual assault and sexual harassment on public transportation there is help. There are organizations to offer support, information, counselling, crisis support, accompaniment, and to assist making reports if desired. This is the time to stop sexual harassment, to stop sexual assault in Metro Vancouver.” Angela Marie MacDougall, Executive Director of Battered Women’s Support Services.

Alexa Dredge and Katie Nordgren, creators of the blog Harassment on Translink, spoke about the significant and demonstrably negative impact on the way women and people of other marginalized gender and sexual identities plan and utilize transportation in Metro Vancouver.

Katie Nordgren: “I wish I could echo everything that Angela just said. She is an incredible speaker and it is a challenge to follow her. As young women Alexa and I do navigate the public system on a regular basis and experience very much a sense of needing to be very guarded, needing to be aware about our surroundings, needing to be aware of where the exits are, needing to observe the behaviours of people that seem like they could potentially be a problem and that does severely impact on our mobility and our rights and freedoms as citizens.”

Alexa Dredge:We started our project largely as an initiative to bring a voice to people needing to be out and tell their stories. And we knew there were a lot of informal stories about this topic  told. We talked to friends and coworkers who we knew knew a lot of people experiencing the same thing we were. And we wanted to get these stories and collect them in one place where could find them and find the trends. And it is obvious  that something really needs to be addressed and it needs to be confronted. Through this initiative there are many new resources that people can become aware of -may be they did not feel comfortable to report before- where now there is a texting system. If someone feels intimidated which is often a huge factor of not reporting, there is now a more discreet way of reporting where it is less likely to escalate the violence which is really important.“

Katie Nordgren:Awareness was a very important mandate of our blog of the project that we did. But it was not the only thing that we want to do. Certainly we are very grateful that awareness was in a way reached and we have been able to start a relationship with Transit Police. It has been extremely grounding for us as activists.  But, the other component that our blog needs to serve and we will continue to serve is creating space for stories to be told. These are really important pivotal moments in the lives of people who submitted them to us. Almost all of them ended a story with a piece of narrative that suggests they no longer feel comfortable on the transit system, they no longer feel free to use it. That, you know, many of them have purchased cars to avoid the public nature of transit and that is unacceptable for us. So, to have space where someone can tell their story and release that sort of emotional baggage and  say ‘you know, this happened to me’ and have other people say ‘this happened to me too’ has been quite – certainly not in any intent of replacing  actual therapy-, but it has been very therapeutic for a number of people who submitted them, I think.“

Alexa Dredge:And having an audience also can be very empowering and knowing people who have experienced the same thing and who want change can hopefully make a huge difference. So with collecting the stories, even with the discussions in public awareness makes people more comfortable about navigating what is going on.

Katie Nordgren:Absolutely. I think that about sums it up. We are very grateful to see the Transit Police taking issue of sexual violence on our transit system, exceptionally serious, and having a wonderful ongoing relationship with a number of cops on the force  who read our blog constantly and follow up with anybody who submitted and says they have a description of the suspect or a photograph. Several cases has been opened as a result of the blog and that is really at the center of the message that this sort of initiatives are important and they do make changes and they do a lot. That is something we are happy to be part of.”

This action can be a way to form a response strategy to create safety on public transportation.

For more information about the Campaign, please visit below links:  

Transit Police target sexual assaults in new international campaign

Local police take part in global campaign for awareness of sex crimes on transit

Startling spike in sex assaults, harassment on public transit

Project Global Guardian: local police join global campaign against sexual offences on transit system

Transit police conducting sexual assault awareness campaign

On Duty app aims to fight sex assaults on transit

Transit Police target sexual offences in week-long campaign

Vancouver transit users will soon have new tool against harassment

Transit police target sex offences

Learn more about public transit safety for women:

How can we improve public transit safety for women?

WTC Café XIV: Sexual Assault, Safety and Public Transit

If you could do something to end violence against girls and women, wouldn’t you?