So, I read about Labour MP Chris Williamson suggesting that women-only train carriages in the UK could help reduce sexual assaults on trains. I’m not sure why I laughed when I read it but I did. Is this a joke? Women-only train carriages were phased out of Britain in 1977. It’s forty years later, and one would think that sexual harassment on public transport wouldn’t be a problem, but it is, so the government is trying to address it.
Figures from The British Transport Police show 1,448 sexual offences on trains were reported in 2016-17, compared with 650 incidents in 2012-2013, and 2017 isn’t even over yet. I think as well as an increase in sexual offences being committed, more women are actually reporting their assaults as well. I doubt we will ever know the true number though as so many women won’t report it when it happens to them.
MP Chris Williamson said he thinks women-only carriages will create a “safe space” for women. Opposing Chris Williamson’s suggestion, Labour MP’s Stella Creasy and Jess Phillips have spoken out by tweeting their opinions, basically saying that women-only carriages won’t solve the problem, and I agree. We shouldn’t be looking at creating safe spaces for women because ALL spaces should be safe for women. The only thing making train carriages an unsafe space for women is men.
But it shouldn’t just be women opposing this suggestion, men who can stop themselves touching up women on the tube should be offended that it’s being suggested that they can’t control themselves around women. See, women-only carriages are suggesting that we can’t stop assaults from happening, further normalising sexual offences, making it seem like it’s just something women have to deal with.
I do not accept that sexual offences/harassment/assaults are a normal part of life as a woman (on a train or anywhere else). Although it seems like that’s what Chris Williamson is suggesting with his single sex carriages. It’s like he’s saying “Well, men will always sexually assault women, so let’s take the women away from men to keep them safe” No. Why should we be the ones to alter what we do because pervy Bob wants to rub his manhood against my thigh during rush hour? How about pervy Bob gets banned from trains for such behaviour?
I’m doubtful people can actually get banned from the entire British Rail Network, but there needs to be repercussions for pervy Bob’s behaviour. On the Government website there’s a whole section on anti-social behaviour, yet nothing is mentioned about sexual harassment. It states that it is up to the transport company to ensure their customers are safe on their journeys and offers advice on dealing with large groups of “boisterous” young people but no advice on how to handle pervy Bob and his pervy friends.
MP Chris Williamson said there is a need for more security and guards at stations and on carriages, which to me is a much more realistic way to help this problem. But I don’t think it will solve it. More guards are guaranteed to make the people on the trains feel safer, but is it enough? Do the transport companies need to train their guards to see sexual offences while they’re happening? What to look out for, how to tell if a woman is uncomfortable and how to approach her if they suspect she might be upset about something. Would that help? Or would women still get harassed when the guards aren’t looking? Unfortunately, I think it’s the latter.
So what can we do? As women, what power do we have to help each other tackle this problem? First of all, we need to look out for each other. If you see a woman looking upset on the train, speak to her. Ask her if she’s ok. If she wants you to stay with her till her stop, ask what’s happened to make her upset, and do what you can to help. Go with her to report it to someone if you need to! We need to be there for each other as much as possible, and we need to report every harassment we face. Even if the guy got off the train or left the station, report him, and tell the staff at the station that men are harassing women on their trains! Tell everybody, and do not accept that it’s just something that happens! Do not ever think you are over reacting by reporting even the smallest incident. Harassment of any kind is never the victim’s fault.
The simplest solution is for men to stop touching/harassing/assaulting women, but apparently that’s asking too much. Women-only train carriages are not the solution, that would be a massive step backwards. And as women, we have worked too hard for our place in society to start going backwards. Sexual harassment needs harsher punishment. We need to be listened to and taken seriously when we report it, and train companies need their own measures in place to handle it, the way they do with other anti-social behaviour. We, men and women, need to look out for each other more, in addition to helping and respecting each other more. The sooner we start doing this, the sooner we’ll see sexual harassment figures go down.
Written by Kelly Peake