London: Victims of sexual assault and harassment are to be encouraged to come forward and report the crimes as part of a major scheme launching this week on London’s transport networks.
In the first initiative of its kind of this size, all 2,000 officers who police the city’s public transport network including the underground, overground trains and the buses have been trained to deal with sexual offences. Up to 180 officers at a time are to be deployed at stations as part of Project Guardian.
Ricky Twyford, an inspector and manager of the project, said the scheme was launched after transport bosses became increasingly concerned about the rising numbers of travellers citing safety and security concerns while using London transport.
One of the biggest fears in a recent survey of commuters was sexual harassment, which few women report.
“We hope this will send a message to everyone that we will not tolerate this behaviour,” said Twyford. “We want women to feel confident that they will be listened to and their complaints will all be taken seriously.”
Three women’s campaign groups the End Violence against Women coalition, Hollaback and Everyday Sexism were asked to help draft the guidelines and train staff after the police authorities studied a similar exercise in the Boston’s Massachusetts Bay transport authority.
From early on Tuesday the police and website Everyday Sexism will launch a week-long Twitter chat using hashtag #ProjGuardian to raise awareness of the campaign and encourage people to share and report incidents that have happened to them on the transport network that week in real time.
Laura Bates, of Everyday Sexism, which has logged about 5,000 incidents from women of all ages describing sexism, harassment and assault on the transport network, has been one of the key advisers.
“What’s really exciting about Project Guardian is the extent to which the BTP [British Transport Police] have worked closely with us and listened from the very beginning to these real women’s stories, which means that vital aspects of the initiative such as believing the victim and taking every instance seriously, no matter how ‘minor, have been central to officer training.”
Ellie Cosgrove, an engineer who filmed a protest on the tube this year in response to being harassed on the way to work, welcomed the project. “This is absolutely vital,” she said.
After filming the protest, Cosgrove was contacted by people in New York and Paris who had suffered similar abuse.
Twyford said there were various criminal offences with which perpetrators could be charged but the main aim of the exercise was to encourage victims to come forward.
“Our core aim is to increase confidence and awareness of the victims of these crimes. Only if they come forward can we find out the extent of this problem,” she said.
Boston has seen a decrease in crimes since it launched its initiative. In April, as part of a growing international campaign focusing on public transport, anti-harassment ads were posted for a month across the city’s transport network.
The Hollaback campaign also funded similar ads displayed on Philadelphia’s transport system. Run by local activists, Hollaback was founded in New York in 2005 after a well-publicised incident of harassment on the subway.
Now a global movement to end street harassment, it is powered by local activists to encourage women to document, map and share incidents. Its aim is to create a crowd-sourced initiative to end such harassment and shift public opinion. Since January 2011 it has trained more than 200 leaders in 62 cities in 25 countries.
Agencies involved in the London transport initiative include the Metropolitan and City London police, Transport for London and the British Transport Police.
Information will be publicised about how to complain, including the setting up of a crime helpline and text service.