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Case Studies – Reducing Harassment and Assault on Public Transit
Overview

Below we share promising practices from Washington DC, Philadelphia, Louisville, Boston, London, and Jakarta. Each of these cities has identified harassment and assault on public transit as a key concern and has worked with local advocates to improve rider safety.

Washington, D.C., USA

In 2012 the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority worked with nonprofit organizations (including Collective Action for Safe Spaces and Stop Street Harassment) to implement a three-pronged anti-harassment effort. This involved:

1. Creating a three-part anti-harassment PSA series. Part 1 centers on empathizing with those who have experienced harassment. Part 2 focuses on encouraging people who cause harassment and harm to change their behavior. Part 3 calls upon bystanders.

2. Training metro employees. Thirty-eight minutes of training were added to the existing sexual harassment training for metro employees. This additional time focused on how to respond to riders who have been harassed.

3. Creating an online reporting portal. Users of this portal can report harassment anonymously. If they include their contact information, they are guaranteed a call from the police within 48 hours. If their experience was illegal, they are asked if they would like to file an official report. They are also be offered support services. The aggregate data collected from these reports is published annually.

In recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, each April the Transit Authority and police post flyers in subway stations and distribute pins and bracelets to riders.

In 2018, Washington, D.C. passed the Street Harassment Prevention Act (SHPA). This is a first-of-its-kind legal measure in the United States that: (1) creates a legal definition of street harassment; (2) establishes a community-based Advisory Committee to study street harassment and develop model policies and trainings; and (3) requires a public information campaign on street harassment. The SHPA was designed uniquely to focus on preventing harassment through education instead of criminalization. In September 2019, D.C. launched a transit ad campaign highlighting the ways street harassment impacts people differently.

Philadelphia, PA, USA

In 2014, our local activist partners in Philadelphia placed bystander ads in the subways and at bus stops. These ads went viral online, reaching over 500,000 people and getting press coverage in Philly.com, The Inquirer, Women’s Media Center, and more. The ad campaign was so successful that Philadelphia’s transit authority doubled its run time.

Louisville, KY, USA

In Louisville, the nonprofit organization MensWork (since 2014 known as the Own It Initiative) has worked with the bus system to combat sexual harassment on buses and at bus stops. Their plan includes:

1. An ongoing marketing campaign encouraging men to interrupt harassment that they witness. Instead of calling those harmed by harassment to respond differently, or on those who harass to stop, this campaign focuses on male-identifying bystanders who witness other men perpetrating harassment and find it troubling.

2. Bystander training for bus drivers, to empower them to say or do something when they see harassment. The effort in Louisville has revealed that a lot of harassment is strategically perpetrated in places where bus drivers and other staff don’t see it.

3. Bystander training for riders, in addition to incentives for riders to attend.

Boston, MA, USA

In 2014, the transit authority in Boston launched a multi-year bystander intervention campaign, designed in coordination with BARCC (Boston Area Rape Crisis Center). The campaign includes posters in subways, as well as police officers distributing information cards to all subway riders during April in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. You can check out some of the posters here.

London, UK

Our local activist partners in London sit on the advisory board of Project Guardian, a long-term initiative that aims to reduce unwanted sexual behavior on public transport in London. Project Guardian is supported by BTP, Transport for London (TfL), Metropolitan Police, and the City of London Police.

According to the TfL Safety and Security survey, around 15% of women have experienced unwanted sexual behavior on the network. Around 90% of them do not report it to police. One of the most common reasons they do not report is that they don’t believe the behavior is serious enough that it will be addressed. Project Guardian focuses on increasing public awareness and confidence to report unwanted sexual behavior to the police or members of staff, particularly those harassing behaviors which are often unreported, such as sexual touching, exposure, lewd comments, and leering.

Project Guardian has established a text message reporting system. Additionally, over 2000 officers and TfL staff who patrol the transport system have been retrained to deal with sexual offenses better. Project Guardian is also working with transport contractors to roll this training out further to the private companies (such as Abellio, Arriva, etc.) that employ bus drivers.

Project Guardian’s message is: “If you choose to report any incident of a sexual nature to the police or a member of rail staff, you will be always be believed and taken seriously, no matter where you are in the country.”

Jakarta, Indonesia

In 2018, our local activist partners in Jakarta joined other organizations to conduct a nationwide survey of 62,000 people on harassment in public space. They found that women are thirteen times more likely to experience harassment on public transport than men are, and that sexual harassment on public transport was common.

This survey led to the formation of a coalition called Koalisi Ruang Publik Aman (KRPA, or the Coalition for Safe Public Space). The Coalition includes DearCatcallers Indonesia, Jakarta Feminist Association, perEMPUan, Yayasan Kalyana Mitra, and Yayasan Lentera Sintas Indonesia. The aim of the coalition is to end sexual violence in public places, and to ensure safe public space for girls, women, and other vulnerable groups.

During 16 Days of Activism in 2019, KRPA hosted a press conference to discuss the results of the survey with public transportation stakeholders in Indonesia. Attendees included representatives from the MRT, TransJakarta Busway, Commuter Line Indonesia, the Jakarta Transportation Management Agency (BPTJ), and the rideshare apps Grab and GOJEK.

Our local activist partners in Jakarta also trained managers of Jakarta MRT stations in bystander intervention and sexual harassment.

OUR UPCOMING TRAININGS

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Upcoming training

Four Strategies to Mitigate Implicit Bias - Individual Pathway

February 22, 2024

1:00 pm - 2:30 pm EST

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Upcoming training

How to Respond to Harassment and Practice Resilience When People Experience Anti-Asian/American Harassment

March 14, 2024

4:00 pm - 5:15 pm EST

A portrait of a group of people standing in front of a blue partition wall, smiling.

Upcoming training

Four Strategies to Mitigate Implicit Bias - Individual Pathway

February 22, 2024

1:00 pm - 2:30 pm EST

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YOU ARE POWERFUL

Remember, everyone can do something. At this time in our history, it is even more important that we show up for one another as active bystanders. Research shows that even a knowing glance can significantly reduce trauma for the person who is targeted. One of the most important things we can do is to let the person who is targeted know, in some way, however big or small, that they are not alone.

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