I got a cell phone at the age of 12 not so that I could be a “cool kid”, but because I had a guy follow me off the bus one too many times. This wasn’t paranoia; as a young woman in a private school kilt, I always attracted more attention than I wanted. Transit wasn’t a safe place for me – it was a place that required strategy. I tried to change into baggy, oversized outfits before I left school, and to always sit in the disabled seats at the front – not because I was rude, but because guys wouldn’t harass me as much if the driver was within earshot. If those seats were full I would look for a pair of seats, and I’d take the outside seat and put my bag beside me (in the window seat) because that way I wouldn’t have a guy sit beside me, rubbing his crotch. If it was after dark I learned to go to the bus driver and ask whether they could stop between stops so that I could be let off closer to my house. Only about one in 20 drivers would agree, but it was something. I had so many scary run-ins – guys standing above me holding on to the loops, using the bus turning a corner as an opportunity to press their groins into my face. I once had a guy whisper to me that he was going to fuck me, and then hang me upside down, slit my throat and watch the blood drain out of me. I had guys follow me home and stand at the top of the garden path, watching me as I unlocked the door, hands shaking. I learned to prepare before I got off the bus if my mum couldn’t meet me – hair out of a ponytail so it wasn’t grab-able, headphones out so I could keep track of the speed of the footsteps behind me, keys in between my fingers ready to jab, or 911 pre-dialed into my cell phone, my finger over the “call” button. Skytrains were just as bad – badly lit platforms and warm, empty trains seemed to be an invitation for people with mental health issues to congregate off the cold streets.
Overall I’ve noticed some good improvements; the silent alarms now work when I push them, the cctv cameras make me feel safer, and the frequency of transit cops on the skytrain is a welcome addition. Here are some additional things that I think Translink could do:
1. Make designated seating for unaccompanied minors. The priority seats shouldn’t just be for the elderly and disabled.
2. Train bus drivers to gender issues on transit. I know many drivers – often women – were aware of what was going on on their bus, but didn’t know how to cope with it. Forcing me to be the one who acted meant that I had to give some expression of my fear; often exactly what the guy seemed to want to get his ‘kicks’. Drivers could ask young unaccompanied women as they got on the bus whether there was a ‘between stops’ stop they needed if it was after dark.
3. Change the messaging around “zero policy to violence” – currently it states that there’s a zero policy towards drivers, but this should be “and to fellow passengers” as well.
4. Change the placement of the silent alarms on the skytrains. I know they need to be obvious and not easily triggered, but there should be another place that they can be located that wouldn’t require reaching up and publicly signalling your fear. Again, this sometimes gives the guys exactly what they want.
5. The messaging for the use of the silent alarm/notifying a bus driver, etc should also be changed – it would be great to see translink run a campaign as partners with “take back the night” or another similar initiative, to say that any time you feel unsafe is a good reason to use the alarm or to request help – you don’t need to wait until the guy is whispering threats. I remember thinking that it wasn’t really a “threat” per say while a guy was staring at me masturbating, so being unsure whether I should pull the alarm.