How to address sex assault on the subway line -

How to address sex assault on the subway line

A Toronto Transit Commission report finds sexual assault on public transit is rising—yet remains underground

Commuters ride a TTC subway west from Kennedy Station in Scarborough, Ontario Wednesday, September 25, 2013. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail/CP)

Commuters ride a TTC subway west from Kennedy Station in Scarborough, Ontario Wednesday, September 25, 2013. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail/CP)

No female between the ages of ten and 110 who takes public transit will be the least surprised by statistics released this week that reveal sexual assault on the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is “worse than previously reported.” According to Toronto Police numbers obtained by the Toronto Star, there were 577 reports of sexual assault on TTC property or vehicles between 2011 and 2015—almost one every three days. That’s twice the number released by the TTC, which only records sexual assaults reported to its employees; many report directly to police. Given what we know about the low incidence of sexual assault reporting, the actual number could be at least 10 times that.

Crowded buses and subways are ideal for seasoned predators or newbie opportunists looking to touch, rub, grope, and expose with little fear of reprisal. The TTC is “a target-rich environment,” a Toronto police sex crimes unit spokesperson told the Star. Part of the reason, of course, is that “targets,” i.e., women, are socialized not to make a fuss, or take up too much public space. Our first instinct is often: Am I feeling what I think I am? Am I overreacting? What will happen if I shout out? Should I pull the emergency stop during rush hour?

Toronto is not unique. Reports of public transit assaults are up internationally. Whether this is because such assaults are becoming more common or more reported isn’t clear. This summer, the New York Police Department reported a 50 per cent year-over-year rise in sexual offences—lewdness, unwanted touching, inappropriately taking photos and video—on the subway system. Rape isn’t included: those average two per year.

Complicating understanding, and discussion, of the topic is the fact we tend not to classify public transit sexual predators as the criminals they are. Instead, they’re “pervs” or “losers.” Such linguistic downplaying was seen in news coverage of the TTC numbers. A TTC spokesman called assaults “unwanted attention” and “harassment” in the Star. Another TTC spokesperson referred to “behaviour ranging from groping to conventional sexual assault” on the CBC, seemingly unaware that all non-consensual touching is “conventional sexual assault.” Laws also don’t always recognize the violation involved. In 2012, a man found guilty of masturbating on three women in the New York subway system received a suspended sentence because he didn’t use actual “force.”

Attitudes to public transit assault can be seen as a microcosm of those toward sexual assault generally: focusing on what the woman needs to do, or how she needs to behave, rather than encouraging bystander involvement and demanding systemic change. The TTC boasted of its “request stop” program, which allows passengers to be let off between bus stops after dark. But, while this technically reduces risk of non-TTC-related assault, it doesn’t speak to the larger issue. Nor does the TTC boasting of designated well-lit platforms with phones, much like universities’ focus on improving outdoor lighting. Though useful, the majority of assaults aren’t outdoors; they’re indoors, where people congregate. Research conducted by the London transit system found most assaults occur during peak travel, contrary to belief that late-night travel puts women at greatest risk.

The TTC has promised a better response. Other jurisdictions have beat them to it, including Boston, London and Edmonton, all which have implemented awareness campaigns. Transport for London’s 2015 “Report It to Stop It” video has had more than four million views and is credited with a 36 per cent increase in reporting unwanted sexual behaviour on the network, as well as a 40 per cent increase in arrests. Edmonton Transit introduced a “zero-tolerance” Safe Ride campaign which features posters listing inappropriate behaviours (groping, leering, sneaking photos, making unsolicited comments). It also instructs riders to call 911 or pull the passenger alarms—which, realistically, few will do at rush hour.

The TTC has promised a cellphone app so passengers who feel threatened or witness a crime can report it. This is quaint; most people travelling transit already have cellphones. As it now stands, women are forced into vigilante mode. A 23-year-old man was busted in New York in August after a woman posted a video on Facebook, saying he had touched her and masturbated on transit. This week #NotTheBetterWay, a Twitter riff on TTC’s “The Better Way” motto, included incidents of assault. Providing subway WiFi would be more useful, as would increased video surveillance and assurances that every complaint will be taken seriously.

Canada could also take a page from London, which bans past public transit sexual assault offenders. And there’s another solution the cash-strapped TTC and other transit operators don’t want to hear: building a system that doesn’t force people to travel in sardine conditions. For now, we need a shared word both women and men can shout if they are being assaulted or witness someone being bothered while travelling on transit. I propose “Creep!” though “criminal sexual predator” is more accurate. It just doesn’t have the same ring.

Correction: An earlier version of this post misidentified Transport for London.


How to address sex assault on the subway line

  1. What exactly do you want TTC to do about it? They could hire hundreds more special constables and put them on every single subway car, bus and streetcar if you want I guess. But who’s gonna pay for that? I really don’t get what the author of this is trying to say here. It’s the TTC’s fault that there is a bunch of sick maniacs in this city that get their rocks off by molesting unsuspecting women? For me, the main thing is when someone gets convicted of doing something disgusting like that, they need to face some serious prison time. Canada is too soft on criminals. I bet the majority of the pieces of trash who are on the transit system doing something like this are on probation or parole from some previous offense and have a long criminal record.

  2. Sadly this misogynistic world view is being chalked up to “it’s just human/male evolution”. Prominent atheist “scientists” like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are sadly promoting this thought as rational scientific fact and excuse this as natural boorish behaviour.

    • THAT is total rubbish. Shame on you.

      Prisons aren’t full of atheists ya know…..they’re full of christians.

      • Shame on me?

        Shame on you Emily for making excuses for a culture where “locker room talk” and coercion is perfectly acceptable. You may remember I called you out on a previous comment where you posted a sexualized slur. NOT ACCEPTABLE.

        Have you read Palmer and Thornhill’s “A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion”? I’m guessing yes – for in this book you will find every answer to excuse the behaviour as described on the TTC above.

        Have you seen the Payne vs Barker debate? It’s the debate in which the prominent atheist Dan Barker uses an alien analogy to enlighten us to the fact that rape is perfectly moral. BTW, yes this is the very same Dan Barker who wrote the children’s book “Just Pretend” that a number of Ontario school boards where thinking of bringing into their libraries.

        Well then there was Sam Harris who argued in an interview that religion was worse then rape. No need to give this guy any more comment. He uses some of the same excuses that the law has referenced in making unacceptable behaviour perfectly excusable.

        I could go on about Dawkin’s who when asked a very simple question on atheism ethics/morality struggled and stumbled to find logical reasons to denounce rape as unacceptable behaviour.

        Please tell us Emily Emily – where is the rubbish really originating? I’d love to hear why you think my comment was shameful and rubbish.

        • You have confused me with someone else or maybe you’re just confused generally

          Locker room talk is being done by christians.

          Atheists are not a group……they have nothing in common beyond a lack of belief in gods.

          You have provided no sources.

          None of those people said those things.

          • Huh!?!

            First of all – I provided a book reference.

            Second – Dan Barker is the founder of the freedom if religion foundation. Recognized by our very own government as a not-for-profit group. You can attend any of their well published public meetings. You can also purchase Barker’s book Just Pretend from Amazon. You can download the transcript of the Payne vs. Barker debate or even view the debate on YouTube.

            Here’s Barker’s quote:
            “Here’s a hypothetical. And I just said it’s hypothetical. You know how some species like cats like to play with mice before they kill them? I mean, they have this weird thing about exaggerating the harm before they eat their meal. Suppose there was some advanced powerful species outside of our solar system that came to earth and it was like that. And it was torturing people. And raping women. We thought “How horrible, this is really bad!” And suppose this culture for the fun of it said, ‘We’re gonna kill the whole species. We’re gonna kill all of you. We’re gonna show how powerful we are.’ We think, ‘Boy, what an amoral group’ right? We’d be afraid of them. But what if they said to you, ‘Before we’re gonna kill everybody off, we just wanna have more fun here, if you will rape a woman, then we will let the rest of the species go, okay? We’ll just leave. If you’ll just do that one thing, and let us watch, because we’re sickos, right? Then we’ll save the rest of the planet.’ Now, I know that’s not likely to happen but hypothetically something like that could happen. Nature is weird, right? In that weird case, which you and I would never see in our life time, you can make an argument – although it wouldn’t be pleasant, and you wouldn’t like it, and you would feel really bad about yourself, you would consider that to be the moral choice.”

            Or even reference the Butt vs Barker debate (Barker defended the necessity to do that which minimizes harm. (Debate with Kyle Butt on “Does the God of the Bible exist? Feb. 12, 2009, 1:02:00))

            Sam Harris – “Letter to a Christian Nation” – published 2006.

            Richard Dawkins – “The Blind Watchmaker” – published 1986.

            As for your previous sexualized slur – I previously suggested you look up the etymology of the language you used. Did you do that?

            Do I need to do ALL the work for YOU? It was recently noted in a post that you have 3 degrees – is this true? You must be well educated then – can you not find your own well published & very public references?

        • You provided your version of what they said……..not quotes…because they said nothing of the kind.

          What Don Barker said or wrote is irrelevant. He’s one person

          I’ve told you before, atheists are not a group.

  3. There is no excuse for these crimes. Even hinting that it does is dangerous as these criminals (normally men) seem to hold on to some belief that any of this is acceptable.

    But what to do? Enforcement, clearly – once the crime is committed.
    Protection by hiring more security staff to help prevent these situations to begin with.

    But I don’t think there is enough emphasis on self-defense. And I mean that in the most basic sense. Common sense.
    These men seem to consistently go after women who seem most vulnerable from their posture and general demeanor.

    Let’s teach our women and girls (and men) how to stand and behave. Teach them some basic spatial awareness.

    These thugs who turn into attackers, in the end, seem to fear/ stay away from strong women.

    After all, they are not looking for a fight. Just for a victim.

    So, be a fighter (in every sense of the word) One of the best places to start, in Toronto: