Sexual assault is a “serious problem” across the TransLink public-transit system.
That’s why Metro Vancouver Transit Police are gearing up to launch a campaign to tackle the problem, according to spokesperson Anne Drennan.
Drennan told the Georgia Straight that the campaign, which will begin in December, has been in the works for a while.
Transit police only decided to tell the public about it early, she noted, because of a new website that’s drawing attention to the issues of sexual harassment and assault on public transportation.
“Groping is what is reported to us most often,” Drennan said by phone. “It is the most-often reported crime among these sexual assaults. But, along with that, there are a fair number of indecent exposures. As well, we have voyeurism.”
This week, Simon Fraser University students Alexa Dredge and Katie Nordgren launched the Harassment on TransLink site to share stories of gender-based harassment from transit riders.
The site already features dozens of submitted posts detailing incidents of sexual harassment and assault on buses, SkyTrain, and SeaBus.
“My biggest problem on transit has been the men who try to initiate conversation with me, and when I ignore them, they try to follow me home,” one woman wrote in a post. “I have had to come up with maneuvers to avoid being abducted or groped, and it saddens me that this is the case.”
Drennan said that, in early December, transit police will meet with ESL school administrators and instructors in order to provide them with information about sexual assault that they can take back to students.
“Quite a number of the gropers, sexual touchers—that kind of thing—on the system seem to target young ESL student females,” Drennan said. “They are very loath to report these incidents, quite often because of cultural stigma or issues, and sometimes because they don’t have a lot of faith or trust in police.”
As well, a text-messaging code will launch in early December, allowing riders to report incidents to transit police without calling.
“If something happens on a train or a bus or a platform, they can text us right then and there,” Drennan said. “It will come through to our communications centre and we will follow up.”
Then, in early 2014, transit police will release a free mobile app, giving victims and witnesses another way to report information.
According to Drennan, the new year will see transit police kick off a “full” public-awareness campaign targeting sexual assault, featuring posters and videos.
“The campaign is focused on sexual assault,” Drennan said. “But we are interested in sexual harassment, which we consider to be a form of sexual assault. But we’re also very interested in any other kind of harassment. People have the right to ride transit without this kind of issue. They deserve a safe and secure ride, and any form of harassment is not acceptable and we will investigate it.”
Dredge told the Straight by phone that she is “very excited” that transit police are planning to take action on sexual harassment and assault.
“We’re really hoping that it focuses on not harassing in the first place,” the SFU student said of the message the police will send the public.