Bristol Women’s Voice has been working with hate crime charity, SARI, and the Women’s Safety Task Group to address sexual harassment of women and girls on all forms of public transport, at stations and stops or walking to them. We invited women to share their experiences to help us evidence and understand more about the problem as a first step in our working with transport providers and the city council to ask for regular data to be collected.
Our snapshot survey asked women about their experiences of sexual harassment across Bristol’s buses, trains, taxis, ferry and plane terminals and any other form of public transport. We also asked them about feelings of safety when travelling around the city. The following is a summary of findings from 54 respondents surveyed April-May 2021:
- 59% of survey respondents had experienced verbal sexual harassment on Bristol transport; 31% of which had been in the last six months;
- 38% had been inappropriately touched; 6% in the last six months;
- 63% of respondents have been made to feel unsafe; 26% in the last six months;
- 57% respondents felt “very unsafe” (to the point of not using buses at night-time) to “relatively unsafe/alert” when walking home from the bus stop – this is particularly the case at night.
Women gave examples of behaviours and languages which included: indecent exposure, masturbation, men touching and rubbing their hair/face/arm/leg, being aggressively sworn at if they didn’t comply with a sexualised request and men watching pornography, including during school run hours when there were several children on the bus.
Women have raised the crossover of sexism with other forms of harassment including ‘fatism’, Islamophobia, racism, homophobia, transphobia, disablism and ageism. Women wearing hijabs are particularly vulnerable to abuse.
Eighty percent of victims stated they didn’t report it; the top two reasons were: they didn’t feel there was any point/they would be taken seriously, and there wasn’t anyone to report it to. Comments included:
- “I wouldn’t be taken seriously by anyone. Women, girls and those who identify as female have this happen to them all the time, every day.”
- “Would not know who to report it to…. No confidence or belief that anyone would take any action. Did not feel able to say anything to bus driver- did not think he would take it seriously or be helpful.”
- “What’s the point? No-one does anything and I’d just be told “they were only trying to be friendly.”
- “It did not seem serious enough just seemed like part of being a woman.”
- “I didn’t think to report it. Is true that for many days I was scared to see him again on the bus when I was returning home after work, but I never thought about reporting. I supposse [sic] because you get used to this kind of things.”
We asked what impact, if any, the experience had on those that had experienced it. A minority of women reported feeling OK the majority stated the incident/s had had an impact, words used included: angry, upset, anxious, frightened, wary, unsafe, violated, fearful, conscious and on alert.
“Creeped out and pissed off that I should feel scared or worried, and annoyed no one said anything.”
Several women reported longer term impacts: two women said they had changed the way they dressed, several women changed their route and others avoided using transport altogether:
- “I try to be on the phone to a friend or my mum whenever I am out alone. I also get my mum to meet me from the bus stop in case I’m followed. I am scared to go out alone after dark.”
- “Anxious, embarrassed, upset, angry, ashamed, humiliated. I avoid public transport a lot more now and hate using any public transport at night.”
- “Lowered my feeling of safety on buses. I used to bus everywhere for 5 years, I used buses daily to get to work, pool, play groups, Arnos vale to visit family past. To get to and from hospital to visit and care for granny. I’ve since purchased a car.”
We asked what women thought should be done to stop sexual harassment on public transport; answers centred on:
- public education and awareness raising across the city
- visible ‘zero tolerance’ material on transport so: women know they will be taken seriously if they report, perpetrators know the behaviours won’t be tolerated and others know to call it out
- somewhere to report, including via text service
- training for staff
- safer bus stops with more lights, CCTV and more staff/visible policing.
“Staff need to be trained and approachable so that they can deal with incidents… Posters at stations telling people that sexual harassment/inappropriate touching is not acceptable and that staff will address this if reported or seen.”
“I think public education is vitally important and masses of work needs to be done educating the public on issues around sexual harassments and assault.”
“More of a response to reports or easier to report. At the moment it is lengthy and you’re made to feel petty or like an hysterical woman.”
“Create an environment/campaign where women not only feel safe enough, but are actively encouraged, to speak up about what they’re experiencing. Promoted on an equivalent scale to the ‘see it, say it, sort it’ campaign. When I’ve been in these situations, the dominant emotion I experience is fear, and the fear keeps me in silence. My mind tries to rationalise others’ behaviour (‘I’ve got it wrong’, ‘they touched me in that way by accident’, ‘I’m just being paranoid’), and that keeps me in silence. I don’t want to create a scene – I struggle with talking across the bus to tell the bus driver I can see someone running to get the bus, let alone accusing someone of a serious allegation in front of a bus full of people. It’s a very vulnerable thing to do, and not wanting to feel vulnerable keeps me in silence. If women are actively encouraged and told ‘it’s okay, you won’t be met with judgement, you won’t be met with someone trying to minimise you, you will be taken seriously, you will be validated and understood’, then maybe more women will be able to go to the bus driver and tell them what just happened to them.”
“Teach young men and boys about consent and to not be sexual harassers. Stop asking women to cover up or ‘be careful’ when we’re the victims. Have a hot line for us to call when this happens. TAKE OUR COMPLAINTS SERIOUSLY!”