This weekend brought with it the launch of London’s Night Tube. Many of you may well have been excited about this, and we were too, but you may also have felt anxious about travelling on the Tube late at night. We wanted to let you know that this feeling is normal and you are not alone.
Around 90% of women experience some form of harassment on a regular basis, and this does not stop on the Tube. In fact last year there were 1,961 incidents of different forms of sexual violence recorded on the Tube – a 41% increase from last year. Notably these reported incidents only brush upon the surface of the scale of what women, girls and non-binary people experience. This is because many marginalised people will never feel able to report their experience of sexual harassment due to the intersecting complexities that surround reporting. Simply put – reporting is often hard, overwhelming, stressful, and places the burden of responsibility on those who experience harassment.
Transport for London (TFL) has done a great job in trying to ensure women and girls feel safe when travelling on the Tube, and we were pleased to have witnessed British Transport Police (BTP) and TFL stick to their word in regards to increasing the police presence across the stations that were open for the Night Tube. That being said, we are also really aware that police visibility is not a real answer to the violence that women and girls experience on public transport – sexual harassment is a deeply engrained problem within our culture, and this cannot be solved by a criminal justice system that routinely fails women and girls. An increase in police does not always make you feel safer, and it also cannot do this in all instances. This is especially true if you have had a bad experience with the police or if you are unable to say anything before, during, or after you experience harassment or violence.
Harassment and violence on public transport, especially on public transport at night, is likely to follow on from many experiences of aggressive sexual advances, groping, being followed, or any number of violence intrusions while trying to enjoy a night out. As a person experiencing harassment you may feel like someone is invading your space. You might feel like someone is saying things that are not ok. You may feel powerless, exhausted or frustrated. You may also feel silenced and like no one will step in. The most important thing to remember is that if you feel like someone is making you uncomfortable then that is something they are choosing to do – they are not flattering you or complimenting you and you are not misunderstanding them. They are consciously making a choice to harass or assault you. And that is not ok.
To those who witness and partake in harassment and violence on transport, and specifically on the Night Tube, it is vital to remember that something that may seem like flirting or fun to some passengers is experienced very differently by those who have already been dealing with harassment on a daily basis – and have most likely already been harassed that evening. We urge all passengers to be mindful of how their behavior can affect those who live with street harassment and gendered violence regularly, and we also encourage you to speak out and support those who appear uncomfortable. Important point: even if you think they should, NEVER pressure someone into reporting to the police. There are lots of reasons a person may not want to report what happened, and it should be their decision alone what they do. If they do ask for help in doing so, take their lead on that. Bystander intervention is powerful and challenges a culture that often legitimises violence against women and girls. That being said, intervention should always be survivor-centered and led by those who are marginalised.
At Hollaback London we are committed to ensuring that your stories are told, and also that your voices weave through any collective action we take to stop sexual harassment. If you do experience anything that makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe on the Tube let us know. The best way to do this is by using our online mapping software on ldn.ihollaback.org. Our website will ask you for a location, so if you feel comfortable sharing this just use the nearest Tube stop and note in your description that this happened on the Night Tube. If you prefer you can get in touch via twitter, tweet us @hollabackLDN and/or use the hashtag #NightTube. If you feel able to you can also report your experiences to the police or anonymously to ‘Report it to Stop’ it here: http://report-it.tumblr.com.
Speaking out about what we endure on a daily basis is hard and exhausting, so it is also totally ok if you don’t get in touch. We are with you in spirit and you are not alone.
The Hollaback London Team
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New submission from Amber.
I got onto a busy bus late in the evening at Elephant and Castle. Since there wasn’t much room I stood on the lower deck next the the stairs, and a man got onto the bus and stood next to me, in front of the stairs. The first time the bus stopped he moved towards me so it looked like he was just letting people off the stairs, but took the opportunity to press the front of his jeans against my thigh.
Thinking it might’ve been accidental I edged away, but he shifted nearer to me and did it again at the next stop, staring coldly at me all the while. Every time I moved and he followed his behaviour grew less subtle until eventually he firmly stroked his genitals across my leg and hip. At this point I squeezed through the crowd towards the exit and waited to get off, while he continued to stare at me. I was terrified he was going to follow me so hopped off at the last moment and fortunately he didn’t. I felt more angry than upset, though I know it will make me more nervous about travelling alone, and I’ve reported it to the police.
New submission from Laura.
This freaked me out slightly as it was the first time I’d been followed by someone. I was walking into the Sainsburys on Clapham high street when this guy fell in step with me and started asking how I was etc. He then followed me into Sainsburys and said he would like to come round with me “to get to know me better.” I told him I had a boyfriend and that it wasn’t really appropriate however he continued to follow me anyway. I was obviously uncomfortable with him being there and he continually kept asking for my number, insisting we had a connection and that we should see each other again. Eventually managed to shake him off by going down a busy aisle and snapping at him so other people looked round (no one helped though). Even after he left I saw him lurking round the supermarket a couple of times. It made me feel extremely vulnerable. Being new to London it’s not exactly what I needed in my first week here!
New submission from Anon.
As I was walking to the tube station, in broad daylight at around 1pm, a young guy wolf whistled at me from the other side of the road. I turned around and confronted him, asking him why he thought it was okay to catcall people, and he replied, ‘Because I can’, and launched into a stream of further aggression which I couldn’t fully make out but included the words ‘bang your boyfriend’. I continued to argue with him and then a young kid who was walking a bit further down the road, who looked about 8 or 9, turned around and shouted at me ‘That’s the truth!’, backing up the other guy. A child joining in the abuse was the most terrifying part of the whole thing for me.
New submission from Erica Louise.
After a night out I got lost on the way home to my boyfriend’s house in Enfield taking an unfamiliar bus route and didn’t know where I was. A man pulled his car over to ‘help’ me, who told me he was “coked up” and I was really scared, but luckily he did actually tell me where I was and got back in the car and drove off. However, it left me feeling shaken and vulnerable.
Later at a bus stop at Wood Green station a man asked me if I was Polish or Bulgarian and when I (still terrified from earlier) mumbled no I was English, he came really close and stroked my head/hair, which is personally really triggering for me and is somewhere I don’t like ANYONE to touch me (not that it would be otherwise okay). When I recoiled and flinched from him he got really angry and started shouting and swearing at me in another language and spitting in my direction. He continued to shoot me filthy looks on the same bus we got and then got off at the same stop as me. I was so scared he was following me home (he didn’t/I lost him). Normally I feel like I handle street harassment quite well and give as good as I get, being quite loud and outspoken. I have never felt this vulnerable or scared before and it has really shaken me to realise how actually vulnerable I am and lucky that anything worse hasn’t happened to me.
New submission from Mags.
Sunday afternoon I walked up the steps of Vauxhall Tube station Exit, a large heavy set man was on the other side of the steps entering the station. He said ‘Hello Darling’ then pursed his lips as if to blow me a kiss. I told him not to talk to me. I continue up the stairs and a few seconds later I hear him screaming at me from the bottom of the steps. I didn’t hear what he said, I didn’t want to, it doesn’t matter to me anymore. I am happy enough that I told him to back off and that I was not ok with his engagement with me. I am only now ready to tell people off who harass me, I was too scared and accepted it until now. I just don’t care anymore. I am pissed off.
New submission from Anon.
This morning I was walking to the station to go to work in Central London when a white tradesman’s van drove past, slowed down and the lad in the passenger seat lent out and shouted something of a extremely sexual nature, pointed at me and made lewd hand gestures for a prolonged amount of time.
This was more than a ‘wolf-whistle’ and at the age of 31 I refuse to be intimidated and treated like a lesser being just because I am a young woman who dresses nicely.
Also as someone who has been bullied my whole life – NO MORE.
Unfortunately for this poor chap he was in his work branded van, and works for quite a big company.
So in line with the advice given from iHollaback I have contacted the CEO of this company directly with details and funnily enough she happens to be a woman.
My letter is below.
But if this ever happens to any of you – I would urge you to do the same.
Dear XXXX & XXXXXX
Re: Street Harassment from your staff driving a branded XXXX vehicle.
At 9.35pm this morning on XXX High Street, London XXX I was subjected to sexual harassment abusive language and gesticulation from a member of your staff, leaning out of the passenger window in a XXXXX branded white van.
I was walking down the street in professional business attire and what I was subjected to from your employee is unacceptable behaviour and amounts to intimidation in 2016.
I am writing to you directly to draw your attention to the matter and request and uphold details of your code of practice for your staff whilst representing your company.
I would like to draw your attention to section 66 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, and additionally the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 which makes it an offence to engage in a course of conduct you know, or ought to know, amounts to harassment of another person.
A number of countries have taken further steps to make street harassment illegal and in 2012 PM David Cameron announced steps to do the same. You may not be aware but Portugal’s Social Democratic party has made verbal sexual abuse a crime, with offences incurring a fine of up to €120 (£95) or a year in prison. In Peru, a recently passed bill defines harassment as any act impacting the freedom and dignity of movement or another person’s right to physical and moral integrity, with such offences in public spaces carrying a maximum sentence of 12 years. And in Belgium, a law passed in 2014 introduced considerable fines and imprisonment of up to one year for street harassment crimes.
I would also like to share the attached information pack from the iHollaback campaign, which works globally to expose individuals and their employers who permit such behaviour. They have a big presence in London and I will be sharing my details and your companies with them if requested.
As a professional woman living in London I believe it is unacceptable that I should be subjected to such abuse, especially that of a sexual and intimidating nature, in broad daylight.
It does not instil faith in your company, your employees and as such I would not feel comfortable having representatives of your company working in my home. I am sure many others would feel the same and I will not hesitate to spread the message about XXXXX should I not receive an apology.
As a woman yourself I am sure that you would also find this behaviour deplorable.
I would also like to suggest that you spend some time educating all of your employees of acceptable behaviour towards women in the workplace and in their own time, as it seems this is an area you are extremely lacking.
I would request that a member of your management team contacts me to discuss further by calling XXXXXXXX. Please note that this is my work phone and all calls are traceable and recorded.
New submission from Rebecca
I was walking home at about 10:30pm last night from Aldgate tube down Commercial Road. I walk that route quite a lot and it’s a reasonably busy road with lots of cars, but not many pedestrians. A man started walking just behind me, a bit too close for comfort. He was a male, maybe mid 20s and pretty unremarkable looking. I resisted the urge to speed up or cross over the road, as I told myself I was being paranoid and shouldn’t be afraid just because I was walking alone. I felt him walk behind me for a bit, gradually getting closer, until he stepped right behind me and placed his hand on my bum. I was so shocked I stopped and turned around, and he quickly turned and walked off down a side street.
I felt incredibly shaken and then angry that something like that would make me feel so scared, particularly in the area where I live and walk every day. I ended up calling my boyfriend to meet me and walk me the rest of the way back to our flat.