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Project Guardian A

recent survey by TfL showed that 9% of women had encountered some form of

“unwelcome sexual behaviour” on London’s public transport in the previous year. Approximately 300 offences are reported each year on the Tube with an additional 200 on rail services – but around 90% of women who have experienced such harassment or abuse do not report it to police.

Under-reporting signifi cantly affects the safety and confi dence of passengers, and makes it more diffi cult for offenders to be caught as it masks the scale of the problem.

Safety threat

In response, the British Transport Police (BTP) have formed a partnership with the Metropolitan Police, TfL and the City of London Police to launch Project Guardian.

It is a move to increase reporting of a “huge spectrum” of incidents, ranging from inappropriate comments to physical abuse, as well as a crackdown on offenders, to allow everyone to feel safe whilst travelling.

The project also includes a dedicated text service and helpline to report incidents, although there are obvious diffi culties using this on the Tube. BTP has been encouraging people to leave at the nearest station to fi nd staff or an offi cer and report it.

Initially inspired by an initiative in Boston, Project Guardian was developed with guidance from campaign groups Everyday Sexism and Hollaback UK, and has been met with widespread support from passengers.

Chief Inspector Paul Garrett told RTM: “A signifi cant proportion of passengers had been a victim of this, but only 10% had come forward

72 | rail technology magazine Aug/Sep 13

and reported it to any kind of authority. That’s 90% not coming forward.

“Clearly from an enforcement point of view, we need to know what’s going on in order to tackle it. Sexual offences are something that we take very seriously. This is about all of those agencies coming together to do something about it. We want to know about it so we can drill down into the intelligence and get into enforcement.”

Keeping quiet

There are a number of reasons why reporting is so low, ranging from shame and lack of awareness through to a society-wide normalisation of this type of behaviour. A prevailing negative perception that the police won’t take harassment seriously has also dented public confi dence to come forward and report it.

“People haven’t come forward. One of the reasons is that [people think] perhaps the police won’t take it seriously, or perhaps even more worrying that it isn’t serious enough to actually trouble the police with, becoming kind of normalised – which clearly it isn’t. We need to understand that,” Ch Insp Garrett explained.

BTP used social media to increase awareness of the project, and to reassure the public that any sexual harassment would be punished. Activity on Twitter saw passenger interaction with the organisation “go through the ceiling”, building momentum for Project Guardian.

Taking it seriously

Ch Insp Garrett called it “a win-win-win”, with no downsides: “Some criminal offences, you

“ It is an environment where offences take place, but we can catch them as well – and we do.”

RTM spoke to British Transport Police Chief Inspector Paul Garrett about a new drive to increase personal safety on London’s public transport.

could argue, are victimless; but this really is a victim-driven crime. From the very lowest level of the scale to the very serious things, it affects people’s lives. It affects people’s travel patterns, their ability to work, to feel empowered to go on the Tube or bus network.”

He noted that victims were not solely female, with around 2% of incidents reported by men. The barriers of stigma are thought to be even higher when this is the case, magnifying the rate of under-reporting.

“They should feel safe and if they are victims of an offence they should feel they can come forward and report it and be taken seriously.”

Project Guardian saw around 2,000 BTP offi cers trained to deal with sexual harassment offences, with a focus on identifi cation of problem behaviour and victim support.

Plain clothes offi cers took to the Underground in even bigger numbers during the launch to help target hotspots, and stop the behaviour in the fi rst place.

The scheme went live on Monday July 22, and will be running for a year on London’s public transport networks. During the launch week alone, nine people were arrested.

“We know this is underreported, we want to know the true level of crime,” Ch Insp Garrett said.

“We want to increase the number of people we catch, put them through the courts or whatever the right action is, and increase the confi dence of the travelling public.”

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