Meet the women speaking out about their experiences of sexual harassment on the Tube
How is this still happening in 2017?
Love it or hate it, most Londoners spend a lot of time on the Tube – 4.8 million of us to be exact, need it to get around. But it’s also common knowledge that a lot of weird shit happens on the Tube. There seems to be something about (often literally) throwing together a bunch of strangers in a confined space that seems to open the door for a lot of sinister things – especially for women.
In the last five years alone there have been 2,118 reports of sexual assault reported on the London Underground. This figure has tripled since 2012, 118 of these assaults taking place on the Northern Line alone. The true number of sexual crimes is likely be even higher than this as many women who are assaulted on public transport still don’t report it to the police.
In an effort to tackle this, last month, Transport for London launched their ‘Report it to stop it campaign’, which encourages women who experience sexual assault on the Tube to report it. Along with its predecessor campaign, it’s helped ensure a 36 per cent annual increase in arrests for sexual offences on the Underground.
Depressingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, British Transport Police stats show that the majority of sexual offenses on the Tube occur during rush hours. Between January 2014 and December 2015, 291 assaults took place between 8 and 10 a.m., and 322 between 5 and 7 p.m. This means that thousands of women have been groped, harassed, or attacked whilst travelling to and from work.
To try and understand why these cases so often aren’t reported, we asked some women to share their experiences, and encourage others to speak out.
Lalla, Piccadilly Line, 9pm
Once when I was only about 14 or 15, I was on the Tube alone going to a party and two guys were sitting opposite me. I realised that they were taking pictures of me on their phones, and I could see because they let the flash go off and everything. It was so weird that I got off the Tube before my stop and caught the next one so that I didn’t have to sit near them any more.
I didn’t tell the police because I didn’t think there was any point, but since then I’ve always been nervous to get the Tube alone at night. I’m always looking out for trouble, and make sure I’m not alone in a Tube carriage. I avoid all dodgy looking men and try to travel with a friend. I count myself lucky that I haven’t gone through anything worse than verbal abuse.
Holly, London Bridge Station (Northern Line) 8:30pm
I was standing at my usual spot on platform on the way to work when a 40-odd year old man came up to me. He said that he’d been watching me for the past six months, which is how long I’ve been at my job, and asked if I have a boyfriend. I said I did and put my headphones in so that he wouldn’t try and speak to me any more.
Luckily, quite a few other passengers must have overheard, as they sort of put themselves in between me and the guy which stopped him being able to do anything else. I felt really shaken and now I’m pretty nervous when it comes to that part of my journey to work. I didn’t report it because nothing really happened, it just made me uncomfortable.
Lily, Waterloo and City Line, 8am
Once when I was on my way to a job interview, someone grabbed my bum on the Tube. The train was at the station and was absolutely heaving, and I just felt someone give my bum a really hard squeeze. It actually really hurt and was so invasive. Because the train was so full I didn’t see the guy until he’d done it, and by then he was already pushing through to get off the Tube.
I swung round to say or do something but he was already too far off. I didn’t tell the police because I didn’t think there was any point. I just thought they’d never be able to find him and I’d never be able to prove that it happened, and as crimes go it was pretty minor so I just left it.
Sarah, Northern Line, 9pm
I was on the Tube going home the other night, next to this middle-aged guy, and I noticed that he was taking photos of the girl opposite him on his phone. She had her headphones in and had absolutely no idea he was doing it. I tapped him on the arm, and he took out his headphones, and I asked him, “excuse me, do you know her?”. He said no, so I asked why he was taking photos of her. He denied that he was, so I leaned over and told her what I’d seen.
He continued to deny it, even though the photos were still on his phone right in front of me. A couple sitting on the other side of him backed me up, saying that they could see the photos. He started deleting them so he could show his camera roll, but as he was showing us this he accidentally scrolled through more photos of a different girl he’d taken photos of on the Tube. He got angry and claimed that she was his girlfriend, but it obviously wasn’t true because the girl in the pictures also didn’t seem to know that she was being photographed.
I was glad I spoke up but I was really scared because I’d exposed him, and he was so angry, so I got off the tube at the next stop. I don’t know what happened in the end, so I don’t know if he got reported.
Daisy, Northern Line, 6:30pm
There’s obviously people who just stare at you on the Tube, but one of the weirdest things that’s happened to me was that I was getting the Northern Line during rush hour in the summer, it was really busy and really really hot. It’s not unusual to be pressed up against people when it’s so busy, so I didn’t think anything of it at first when a man was right up behind me.
I had my back to him, but he was facing me, his body really closely pressed against mine. So close, that I’m pretty sure I could feel him get a boner while pressed up against my bum. It was so horrible, and I couldn’t work out if it was just me overthinking it, so I turned around and stared at him before squeezing my way down the carriage.
It just made me so uncomfortable and now I’m always a bit on edge if I’m on a really packed Tube.
Fiona, Victoria Line, 8:15pm
I was going between Oxford Circus and Brixton when a couple of older guys got on. They looked strange because they were wearing weird clothes and seemed drunk or high. As the tube moved one of them stumbled and fell across my lap. He laughed and said “sorry love”, and then sat next to me. His friend was sitting in the seat opposite but one. The first guy leaned towards me over the arm of his seat and started staring at my legs. He looked me up and down and said “man, I love tights”, and carried on staring even as I shifted in my seat to be as far away as possible.
He did this for ages and I was so uncomfortable, especially when he looked at his friend and gestured to me, and they both nodded. I didn’t know what it meant but it felt really threatening. We came to a stop and the person opposite me got off, and the guy next to me moved so he was facing me. He carried looking me up and down and grunting under his breath, even when I made eye contact with him to let him know that I could see him staring.
Eventually I was so scared that I got off to switch Tube. I was worried about what would happen as the train emptied, and was scared they’d follow me when I got off and left the station. I didn’t tell the police because they didn’t actually do anything, I was just frightened.