Women share their experiences of sexual harassment on public transport
Last year 75 per cent of women in London were victims of ‘violence or harassment in public’
I was surrounded by silent Londoners, on a platform at Whitechapel when a man whispered into my ear – “If I won the lottery, I would strip you naked and keep you in a cage in my living room, to use as my very own sex slave”.
Too scared to talk, I said nothing in return and the idea that a man relayed a fantasy of abusing me, in front of a mass of people that stared ignorant into the night horrifies me still.
This very small incident shook me up for days, weeks, even now, a year on I’m still angry that someone tore me apart so easily, and stripped me down to my sexuality as I stood on a packed platform that became foggy in my view while I grew sheepish and mute. Upon sharing my experience with friends and people I knew, I grew worrisome that no one was really shocked, in fact, most of the women I told would reply “A similar thing happened to me not long ago” and relay some horrifying story as casually as they would recall a trip to the shops to get a loaf of bread.
The more of stories I heard of men on trains leering, and young boys intimidating, people grabbing and even masturbating in their seat, the more I would sink into my subconscious and recall a time when something similar happened to me that I clearly didn’t want to remember. And I wonder if we all have a back catalogue horrifying stories to flick through, and pull out like small tokens we receive for being born female.
A recent survey found 75 per cent of women in London have been ‘subjected to harassment or violence in public”. The British transport police ran a campaign in April 2015, “Report it to stop it” as it became apparent that while 1 in 10 Londoners experience sexual assault on public transport, 90 per cent of that goes unreported. The number feels so staggering.
This year, there was even talks of women only carriages in the UK, as Jeremy Corbyn proposed he would introduce them to help reduce current levels of harassment. But really, how can we treat men like they have no control over their sexual or power driven desires? So much so they have to be physically separated from women on public transport, surely there’s a lack of credit given there to those men who choose not to assault people? The idea is thought provoking but it is purely regressive. Has it gotten so extreme that the only solution is to separate men and women? Is this not another method to place some of the blame on the victims for purely being there, finding excuses for criminal behavior, and is not really finding the root of the problem at all?
When I appealed on social media for other people to share their personal experiences, I received an unexpected flood of messages from women almost relieved to speak to me about it.
At the end of a long day, on the packed northern line, I stood holding onto the handrail minding my own business as much as you can when you’re on a London tube. More people got on including a middle-aged guy who stood behind me. After I bit I felt something resting on my bum. I was too polite to say anything, but I knew he was basically resting his dick on my bum. So I stood, unsure of whether he was doing it deliberately. But as I thought later to myself, if I was aware of what was happening to my behind, he was probably was too.
I think I told a friend or something but probably in ‘well that was weird’ kind of way, or that maybe I was wrong. But thinking back I know I wasn’t.
Recently one of my close friends was travelling to London when a man chose to target her. He made kissing noises towards her and when she ignored him he approached her and tried to kiss her, when she refused he then began grabbing at her breasts and crotch. This was a young girl and an old man on a packed train. She was clearly in distress and no one offered any support or help. Once he realised she wasn’t interested he sat down opposite her and continued to make noises and vulgar gestures toward her. So she’s sat in tears on the full train crying down the phone to her mum and still no one intervened.
It happened to me when I was on a bus in India from Delhi to Dhār masala, it was a sleeper bus and I sat by the window. This older man was sitting next to me we only exchanged a little hello/Namaste, I spent most of the journey with earphones in. I woke up between at 4am and I felt his hand on my thigh under my tightly closed blanket (as if not having a blanket excuses it anyway). I hit his hand away, no words exchanged. It happened again a little bit later, three times in total during the night.
I didn’t know how to say anything to the people around me who didn’t speak my language. I remember spitting through my teeth at him to stop I’m sure he understood. I was so frightened. I thought to myself: “Is my skirt not long enough in saying ‘I am not here to be touched by your hands or anyone’s hands that I don’t want to be?”
I was once on a bus, group of boys behind me, speaking very loudly about me, trying and successfully intimidating me. I can’t remember specifics of what they were saying, but I remember feeling really uncomfortable. They were asking me questions ‘where you off to, love?’ I suppose I was pretty scared and I thought it was safer to answer them then ignore them and possibly wind them up. When we were all off the bus, they walked past me and one of them smacked my arse.
If it happened now, I would be so cross. But it was a few years ago. I felt like ‘it’s just one of those things’- it’s just what happens to girls on their own when she is around a group of boys. I remember thinking ‘god, I must look really attention seeking’, which makes me mad that I could think that. It annoys me that I automatically blamed myself for some grotty boy’s actions. I told the friends I was meeting at the time but I didn’t report it, I thought nobody would take it seriously anyway.
When I was twenty-one I lived in New York for four months. Not long after I got there, I was on a crowded train and a man behind me pressed his hard-on into my ass. It was hard to turn around and look in his face, but when I did he wasn’t looking at me and I couldn’t quite believe that this was happening on purpose. At the next stop, half the people in the train had to get out so that those whose stop it was could exit, and then when we all piled back on the train, the same man was again behind me and again I could feel his dick pressing against my body. I tried to move forward a bit to create a space between us, but he moved into the space. I was afraid of saying anything and making a scene in case I was mistaken. At the next stop I got off but I could feel the sensation of his dick on me for hours afterwards.
I was on the train from Stanstead to London Liverpool Street around 9PM. When I got onto the train I noticed a man in a suit passed out further along the carriage, I moved to the bottom, about 15 minutes into the journey he woke up, proceeded to take a piss by the door, despite the toilets being at the other end of the carriage. After this I placed all my bags on the seat beside me as I noticed he had clocked me.
He came over, placed his hand by the window beside me, leaning over me. He stood like this for a minute or so, looking at my bag to encourage me to take it off the seat. He then put his hand in his trouser pocket and started masturbating, his crotch around my eye height. I stood up immediately, grabbed my stuff and moved to another carriage. I intended to tell the police at Liverpool Street, but he appeared to have gotten off before then and it was getting late and I just wanted to be with my friends. I felt angry, disgusted, and scared.